Italy says 'No' to Ecogen Wind Farm

Gwen Chamberlain
Italy Supervisor Margaret Dunn, left, and Town Council Members Amanda Gorton and Malcolm MacKenzie listen to comments during the Sept. 19 public hearing on the wind farm.

The Italy Town Board took three actions Monday night to stop the development of a wind farm in the town.

Ecogen LLC applied to develop up to 24 turbines in 2007. Since then, the project was adjusted to 18 turbines as part of a wind farm placed on property in the Yates County Town of Italy and the Steuben County Town of Prattsburgh.

As a group of steadfast town residents watched, the board carefully reviewed and made minor revisions to a six-page resolution denying the application for a special use permit to build and operate a wind farm on Emerson Road. The board agreed unanimously to adopt the resolution denying the application.

The resolution also denied the application for incentive zoning, which would have established amenities and benefits to compensate the town for the adverse impact of the industrial wind farm.

Those amenities and benefits would have included a nearly $1.5 million one time payment plus over $430,000 in annual benefits. But Frank Sciremammano, the engineer contracted by the town to complete the environmental review of the project, said those benefits would be less than the revenue the town could receive if the wind farm was built and was fully taxed by the town. He estimated that annual amount at over $800,000 — far more than the town’s $600,000 annual total tax levy.

When asked what message this sends to town residents, Supervisor Margaret Dunn said, “I’m hoping it sends a message that this town board has never stopped listening, but we had to take the steps necessary to get to this.”

Kathy Johnstone, whose property neighbors one of the locations where the company wants to construct 400 ft. tall turbines, said she was surprised by the board’s action.

“I’m relieved that they are going to step back and take a closer look,” she said, adding, “I almost cried. This means some protection for my home.”

In conjunction with denying the application, the board unanimously agreed to a negative finding with respect to the state environmental quality review (SEQR). In another multi-page document, the board agreed that the adverse effects from the wind farm would outweigh the amenities and benefits proposed by Ecogen, LLC (Ecogen is now a partner with Pattern Energy).

Finally, the board unanimously agreed to adopt a local law placing a six month moratorium on the development of wind farms and associated infrastructure in the town.

During the moratorium, the town board will reconsider the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning laws related to industrial wind farm development.

A public hearing on the proposed local law will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 27. That local law will also be reviewed by the Yates County Planning Board on Oct. 22.

Ecogen attorney Dan Spitzer said he was very disappointed in the development and added, “This is clearly based on generalized public opposition. We’ll see where it goes from here, but we appreciate all the hard work the board did.”

The board agreed with Sciremammano’s determinations that the adverse affects, such as noise, shadow flicker and decreased property value could not be offset by the amenities and benefits offered by the company.

In rejecting the SEQR findings, the board rejected conclusions that had been made by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA), which had completed environmental review documents for the entire wind farm application, which includes turbine sites in the town of Prattsburgh.

Sciremammano said the SCIDA approved SEQR documents did not address Italy’s steep slope development requirements or mature wooded areas, and ignored the scenic value of the area as identified by the town.

He also noted that the widespread opposition by land owners, and recent noise issues experienced by property owners in the nearby Cohocton wind farm development were factors in the negative finding.

Dunn said in the past, town residents had looked favorably on wind farm development by a broad margin. In response, the town adopted a comprehensive plan and corresponding local regulations for the development. In February, the town board approved the Incentive Zoning for Industrial Wind Turbines by a 4-1 vote.

“Obviously, they (residents) changed their minds,” she said, noting there was likely a combination of a change in the people who spoke out about the issue as new residents moved into the town and a change of opinion within the town when residents learned about the negative experiences reported from other nearby wind farms.

The wind farm development has been the subject of lawsuits in Italy. In March 2006 Ecogen filed a federal lawsuit complaining about the length of the moratorium. The court ruled in favor of the town, but it cost the town nearly $80,000 in legal fees.

In June 2009, the Finger Lakes Preservation Association, an unincorporated association of property owners in Italy, filed a suit in Yates County against the town and Ecogen. The group is seeking repeal of the local law laying the groundwork for wind farm development, according to Dunn.

Litigants expect a decision within days.