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July 25, 2013

Wind farm proposal divides Richfield Springs

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — RICHFIELD SPRINGS — A review of a controversial wind-farm project that would bracket U.S. Route 20 is expected to be completed by Otsego County planners by Aug. 9, and the Richfield Planning Board could act on an application for a special permit, according to some officials, as early as Aug. 12.

The wind project has divided town officials as well as town residents, with opponents saying the towering turbines would be noisy and emit flashing lights, while advocates say they will produce clean renewable energy while spurring economic activity.

Otsego County Planning Director Karen Sullivan said her department is combing through a raft of documents — including a dozen 3½-inch-thick booklets of legal papers relating to litigation over the project — and has reached out to three town supervisors in neighboring Herkimer County to get input from them.

The Planning Department, she said, has 30 days to finish its review, which began July 9. The mission of the county planners, she said, is to determine what impacts the wind farm might have both within Otsego County and on neighboring municipalities, including Litchfield, Winfield and Columbia in Herkimer County.

One determination that will be made is whether the 492-foot tall turbines — which will be visible from those nearby towns — mesh with the comprehensive plans of neighboring municipalities.

The county agency, however, does not hold veto power over the project. But if it does find impacts of concern, the Richfield Town Planning Board — which had issued a permit to the developers in late 2011 in a move that led opponents to file a lawsuit challenging the decision — could still decide to issue a permit if a “supermajority” approves it.

Because one Planning Board member, Paul Szeflinski, was killed this month in a farm accident, a supermajority would require that all remaining four board members unanimously agree to issue the permit.

One of the outcomes of the litigation is that the town Planning Board learned it was required to send the county Planning Department its files on the matter before holding the packed public hearing that it hosted in Richfield Springs Monday night. The overwhelming majority of those who spoke at the meeting voiced opposition to the turbines.

A Planning Board member who has consistently supported the project, Richfield Springs businesswoman Cynthia Andela, told The Daily Star that she has discussed the project with many town residents who favor it but “they don’t dare get up and say anything” because they would be jeered by the opponents. She said she believes there’s a silent majority of town residents who would welcome the wind farm.

Andela said she’s had to deal with insinuations from opponents who claim her company would end up getting work from the wind farm developers, Ridgeline Energy. But she categorically denied her business, Andela Products, a glass-processing facility, would benefit in any way from the wind farm.

One man who spoke against the project, Chad Snyder, of West Winfield in Madison County, said in front of more than the 100 people who attended the Monday night forum that he recently went to Andela’s to apply for a job, but was told by a company staffer that there would be more work opportunities if the wind farm is approved.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Snyder at first said he was unaware that Cynthia Andela was a Planning Board member. Asked why he thought his story of trying to get a job at Andela’s was relevant to the wind-farm discussion if he didn’t know that a planning board member had a connection to the company, Snyder then said that his mother-in-law encouraged him to talk about his visit to the plant at the hearing.

Cynthia Andela said when she went to her office Tuesday, she discussed the allegations that Snyder made with her employees, and no one could recall meeting Snyder or taking a job application from him.

Snyder, who said he remains unemployed, explained Wednesday night he did not fill out a job application because he determined he was not qualified for a welding position he was seeking.

Cynthia Andela said it was a “low blow” for wind-farm opponents to imply she has a financial interest in the wind farm when she never has and never will.

Town Supervisor Fran Enjem said the town board has begun accepting applications from persons interested in filling the Planning Board vacancy. But he said it is unlikely that spot will be filled prior to the Planning Board’s next scheduled meeting, Aug. 12.

Enjem said he believes most residents oppose the turbines. He said he has balked at signing a proposed community host agreement because he believes the town could end up getting stuck with huge dismantling costs once it is time to shut down the network of machines.

The turbines would have a generating capacity of 18.45 megawatts.