By Chris Hoffman
(Madison, Hamilton, NY – March 2012) On the evening of March 21, a large group of residents from the Towns of Madison and Hamilton and the Village of Hamilton met to discuss strategy for opposing the proposed Rolling Upland Hills Wind Farm (RUHWF). The speaker for the evening was an attorney who specializes in representing citizen groups to protect their communities from corporate invasion and destruction. He talked about how to successfully fight a land use war and told the crowd, “This is a war, a guerrilla war, and you better be prepared to bring everything you’ve got.”
He said it will be a war on three fronts: litigation to challenge approval of the project; political relations so citizens opposed to the wind farm project are not characterized as a “vocal minority;” and legislation, with the ultimate goal being to change local laws so corporate predators can’t get their foot in the door in the first place.
The attorney explained that energy companies in particular look for areas where the local laws are weak or nonexistent and target those areas for development. Planning Boards are forced to follow a timeline once a company applies for a use permit, but until a company has a vested interest in a development project – i.e., breaks ground – local laws can be adopted or amended to better suit local sensibilities. Additionally, local boards have the authority to impose a moratorium on a project.
The legal war would take the form of an Article 78 Proceeding, which can include both procedural and substantive causes of action. A procedural cause of action would be a claim that the Planning Board did not act appropriately at some point in the process. A substantive cause of action would be a claim that the petitioner (the citizens group) disagrees with a Planning Board decision or ruling, for example that a project would not have a significant impact on the environment. The goal of an Article 78 proceeding is to have the court annul a Planning Board’s decision, which would force an applicant to begin the process all over again. Most, however, don’t; they move on to easier hunting grounds.
The attorney also advised “begin now to get your own people on the slate for the next election” and said he has seen a complete turnover on many local boards because of challenges by voters in putting new candidates into the mix. The Village of Madison’s newest board member, Paul Cook, ran unopposed in the March 20 election and won with just 14 votes. Town of Madison Supervisor Ron Bono’s term is up in 2013. Some at the meeting reported that Hamilton Village Mayor Margaret Miller has advised her trustees to not take a stand on the proposed wind farm. Draw your own conclusions.
Many at the meeting came forward with donations to a fundraising campaign announced at the meeting to pay for legal expenses. Brochures, flyers, and lawn signs are being made to bring this issue to the public’s attention. Nancy Frey offered to wear a sandwich board and walk through the Village of Hamilton to get people’s attention. “I’m serious, I’m offering to do this,” she said.
Public comments are critical to the Planning Board’s decision to grant or not grant a special use permit to RUHWF. Written comments can be submitted “for the record” at the public hearing.
Saturday, April 7, 10 a.m. – Forum and Workshop to prepare for the Public Hearing, Madison Central High School, 7303 State Route 20
Tuesday, April 10, 7 p.m. – the film “Windfall” will be shown at the Hamilton Theater
Sunday, April 15 – bus trip to Hardscrabble Wind Farm in Fairfield; leaves from Madison Central School parking lot at 12:15 p.m. First come, first served.
Monday, April 16, 7 p.m. – second showing of Windfall at Madison Central High School
Wednesday, April 18, 7 p.m. – public hearing on draft environmental impact statement at Madison Central High School
What You Can Do to Help
Donate to the litigation fund (contact Pam Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org). Read the dGEIS and learn about the issues at madisonmatters.org. Attend the workshop. See the film. Get on the bus to Hardscrabble. Submit comments at the public hearing. Support this effort, even if it isn’t your property that’s being targeted; next time, you might need the same kind of support. Learn about your local land use laws. Consider running for public office in the next election.
For more information, contact Pam Fuller or email@example.com.