A proposed 18.4-megawatt wind farm project in the town of Richfield is back on track after a state appeals court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a special-use permit granted to the developers by the town planning board.
The decision, which was unanimous, is unlikely to be appealed because there would be only a remote chance that the Court of Appeals would agree to take the case, project opponents said.
The Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, reversed a January 2014 ruling by state Supreme Court Judge Donald O. Cerio that annulled the permit and accepted the arguments made by project opponents — neighbors who said they would be negatively affected by the projected — that the planning board had deviated from rules governing such project reviews.
Cerio's ruling was then appealed by the Richfield planning board and the developer, Monticello Hills Wind LLC.
The appellate court said the lower court should not have substituted its judgment when there was "substantial evidence" supporting the determination made by the planning board.
"This decision is a compliment to the planning board and the work they did," said Patrick Doyle, who is overseeing the Monticello Hills project. The goal of the project is to construct six wind turbines, standing 492 feet, bracketing U.S. Route 20 on farmland in the western edge of the town. Opponents have said local zoning rules do not permit such projects, and argued that loud noise and disturbing flashing lights from the towering machines would be disruptive to their lives and reduce property values.
The five justices of the appellate court said in the ruling that the planning board, before issuing the permit, cited a study that found property values would not be diminished.
"Notwithstanding their size, the Board pointed out that the turbines are located in an area where high-voltage electric transmission lines have already altered the landscape, and noted that other factors minimized the impact of the project upon the viewshed," the justices said.
Larry Frigault of Richfield, an insurance executive who lives within a mile of the project site, called the decision "an embarrassment to the appellate court."
"The body of evidence that these industrial turbines do harm people's health and impair property values is overwhelming," said Frigault, who was among those who brought the suit.
Town Supervisor Fran Enjem said he expects the town board will discuss the ramifications of the decision in June. He also said he wants to strengthen the provisions in the community host agreement between the town and the developer. Enjem pointed out that he never signed that agreement.
"We need to redo the agreement so that it benefits all of the town's residents," Enjem said.
Planning Board member Dan Sullivan said he believes there is still time to enact a moratorium on the project because construction has not yet begun.
Sullivan, a wind-farm opponent, added: "I'm very hopeful that the town board will move to install strong property-value guarantees in the host agreement."
Doyle said he believes the agreement is valid as written. He estimated that it will take a $40 million investment to complete the project, the construction for which is expected to commence in 2016.