Crowd overflows at Town of Madison Planning Board meeting
By Chris Hoffman
(Madison, NY – March 2012) The Planning Board of the Town of Madison held its regularly scheduled meeting on March 7 at the Town Hall. Planning Board members are Roger Williams (Chair), Paul Crovella, Bruce Tanner, Mitch Hoffmeister, John Mancino, James Finch, and Ted Modrzejewski. Town Attorney William Gettman also attended the meeting, as did Town Supervisor Ron Bono.
Once again, an overflow crowd was present, intent on having their concerns addressed about the proposed wind farm near Bonney Hill Road. Despite people standing in the hallway, sitting on the floor, and leaning up against the walls, the meeting was not relocated to the Fire Hall.
Just before the meeting began, Williams brought four 3-ring binders into the room and put them on a side table. These were copies of the draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted to the Planning Board for review. Each copy was contained in two binders, one about 5 inches thick, the other about 2 inches thick. They are available for public review at the Town Office from 9-12 and 1-4 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The documents are supposed to be posted on the Town’s website, but to date they are not.
Williams then announced that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss regular business pertaining to land subdivisions, with no discussion about the wind farm on the agenda. People immediately objected. Williams then indicated that if people wanted to ask questions “after the meeting,” they could do so. Again, many people objected; people wanted the discussion to be on the record and incorporated into the official Minutes of the meeting.
About three people petitioned the board for subdivisions of private land. One such applicant was Sphere Development, who apparently wants to subdivide one large parcel of land surrounding the Madison Market Place into smaller parcels in anticipation of selling these smaller parcels at some time in the future. No further details were made available.
While these discussions were going on, this reporter took the opportunity to look at the draft EIS. The summary of the project includes the following details:
The “area of potential effect” includes a five-mile area around the 7,000-acre project area.
The “project corridor” is about 240 acres that will include up to 7 miles of electrical collection lines, 70-foot-wide access roads, 11 miles of gravel access roads; temporary staging areas; 2 meteorological towers, and 36 turbines. The project will be constructed in one phase.
The Planning Board’s “positive declaration of significance” was issued on February 16, 2012, but the draft EIS states that it was issued on December 16, 2011.
The draft EIS enumerates the following potential impacts: soil erosion, soil compaction, loss of agricultural land, stream crossings, siltation and sedimentation of streams, wetland filling, vegetation clearing, wildlife injury and death, loss and alteration of habitat, change in community character and land use trends, road wear, traffic congestion and delays, visual impacts on architectural resources, disturbance of historic archaeological resources, visual change to the landscape, visual impact on sensitive sites and views, shadow flicker impact on adjacent residences, increased demands on police and emergency services, possible telecommunications interference, construction vehicle emissions, dust during construction, construction noise, and operational impacts on adjacent residents. The draft EIS also mentions the possibility of revenue to participating landowners, expenditures on goods and services in the community, and both short- and long-term employment, as well as negotiated revenues in the form of PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes).
Permits for the project are controlled by the following entities: building permit (Madison Town Board); Road Use Agreement (Highway Department); SEQRA compliance and approval of the project (Town Planning Board). Madison County must also issue driveway permits and negotiate a road use agreement. The DEC in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers must issue permits for disturbances of stream beds and banks, and the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) must issue a general permit for storm water discharge from construction activities.
The draft EIS at this stage appears to contain outdated generic rather than site-specific studies and reports, and still has no studies on noise and flicker, despite specific requests from residents at the last meeting to include them.
After discussion of the subdivision issues, the Board attempted to adjourn the meeting. The crowd erupted with objections, and the Board had no choice but to continue the meeting unadjourned. Although exchanges between residents and the Board were at times loud and heated, many important details eventually emerged during the discussion, which lasted nearly two hours.
Although the Town pays its environmental consultants, the money for these payments comes from the developer. The Town’s environmental consultant is Clough Harbor Associates, known as CHA and headquartered in Albany.
When asked if any of the Planning Board members had visited the proposed site of the wind farm, only Crovella said he had driven all the roads in the area.
Much of the discussion focused on the impression that this project was being fast-tracked without allowing residents sufficient time to make informed decisions. Jim Cohen, who lives on East Lake Road, said he hadn’t even heard about the project until two weeks ago, and vehemently objected to the notice placed in the Oneida Dispatch only two days before the special meeting convened to vote on accepting the draft EIS. He then asked the Board, “When you were first approached about this project last November, why didn’t you immediately go to your constituents with the information instead of waiting until now?”
Numerous people expressed the belief that the Planning Board was not “being straight” with them, that the Planning Board “is not hearing us.”
Another resident told the Board that he and his wife are typically in Florida until the end of April, but this year because of the mild weather, they came back early only to learn about the impending approval of the wind farm. He was very angry, and told the Board that they have a duty to their constituents to make sure every single resident is adequately informed and has sufficient time to learn about the project. Telling people in February that they have until the public hearing on April 18 to formulate comments is negligent and unfair. “If I had come back from Florida at my usual time of year and discovered that this project was a fait accompli, I would not hesitate to bring a lawsuit against the Town,” he added.
This reporter asked the Board if they had the means to stop the project, even assuming that the developer ultimately mitigates all concerns. Crovella responded that through SEQRA section 19, which addresses concerns about “the character of the community,” it is possible to make a decision to deny a permit for the project if it is determined that allowing the project would not be in keeping with the character of the community. He also added that the Planning Board looks to and depends on input from the community on this issue.
Gettman noted that because it is the Town Board that negotiates PILOT agreements, that Board could demand PILOT payments high enough to discourage the developer.
One resident asked, “Why not consider a moratorium on wind farms?” The crowd erupted in spontaneous applause at this suggestion. Another resident added, “You guys have to be diligent – this is our lives you’re messing with!”
Pam Fuller, another resident in the project area, spoke to the Board about how inadequate the documentation to date is, especially the maps that have been provided, indicating that there are at least 40-50 homes not included on the maps.
Fuller informed the Board that a bus is being hired to organize a field trip to Hardscrabble Wind Farm in Fairfield, a wind project of similar size but in a less densely populated area. When she pointedly asked the Board members if they would be willing to visit Hardscrabble, Williams said he would “if I can find the time.” Fuller then responded, “With all due respect, Mr. Williams, you need to make the time.”
Fuller also submitted a petition with over 100 signatures of residents opposed to the project and demanding complete and accurate documentation from the developer, with a promise of more signatures to come.
Towards the end of the meeting, another resident asked the Board, “How will this project benefit those of us who live here?” Despite repeating the question several times, the Board offered no cohesive response.
Concerned citizens can submit comments on the project to the Town of Madison Planning Board, P. O. Box 66, Madison, NY 13402. Comments should address specific properties and specific concerns.
Chris Hoffman is a freelance writer/reporter for the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.