A coalition of Chenango and Otsego county residents filed a petition last week in New York State Supreme Court calling for the annulment of the town of Guilford’s renewable energy law and the removal of the town supervisor from office.
Donald and Barbara Kovalchik of Unadilla, Ed Kershen of Mount Upton, and Paulette Gural and Jessica Gombach of Guilford filed the Jan. 24 petition against the Guilford Town Board and the Chenango County Planning Board, according to court documents.
The petition calls for the annulment of Local Law No. 3, which permits the development of industrial wind and solar projects within the town, as “arbitrary and capricious, affected by an error of law, made in violation of lawful procedure, and unsupported by evidence in the record.”
The petitioners argue that the town board engaged in a conflict of interest by allowing the project developer to dictate the terms of the law.
In drafting and approving the law, “the Town Board appears to have based their decision on what Calpine wanted and not what Town residents or scientific studies recommended,” the filing read.
High Bridge Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Calpine Corp.n, filed a preliminary scoping statement with the state Public Service Commission in January 2019, proposing a wind turbine facility on a collective 28,000 acres of private, rural lands leased to the company that would generate up to 100.8 megawatts of energy.
The petition contended that “a coordinated review letter should have been sent to any counties and towns abutting the Town of Guilford,” including Otsego and Chenango counties and the towns of Butternuts, Unadilla, Bainbridge, Oxford and Norwich.
On Aug. 5, Unadilla Town Supervisor George Denys sent an email to Guilford Town Supervisor George Seneck, “expressing concerns related to noise, visual and health impacts,” according to court documents.
Identifying the town of Unadilla as an “adjacent and affected municipality to the High Bridge Wind Project” and contending that the town “has serious concerns about the proposed project,” including nine turbines to be installed on a ridge above the Unadilla River on the town’s border, Denys requested that “studies, protections and safeguards afforded to the Town of Guilford should also be directly applied to the Town of Unadilla in the same scope and manner regardless of county or town boundaries.”
“Until visual, sound and health concerns are completely addressed to the satisfaction of public health officials and the Town of Unadilla, we must strongly oppose the 9 wind turbines proposed in the southeast corner of the High Bridge Wind Project,” Denys wrote.
The petitioners also argued that the town board should have consulted with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service in its analysis of the State Environmental Quality Review.
Citing several articles of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, the petitioners expressed concern for the project’s potential impacts on air and water quality and the habitats of threatened or endangered species such as the green floater — a species of freshwater mussel — and the bald eagle, as well as rare species such as the longtail and the hellbender salamanders.
Many of the proposed wind turbines are located in proximity to wetland areas and waterways, according to the filing. Of particular concern are the turbines proposed along ridge tops directly above the Unadilla River and its tributaries, Kent Brook, Moses Brook and Guilford Creek, which are located within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The petitioners argued that the wind turbines constitute “the creation of a hazard to human health,” because “the rapidly spinning blades can produce a weak but distinctive noise, as well as disruptions in air pressure,” according to the filing.
Infrasound, defined as sound lower in frequency than 20 Hertz, or the “normal” limit of human hearing, can cause wind-turbine syndrome, according to the filing, which lists symptoms such as headaches, sleep problems, night terrors, ringing in the ears, irritability, anxiety, concentration and memory problems, dizziness, nausea and issues with balance.
The petition further contended that the Guilford town supervisor had “an indirect financial interest” in the project because his sister-in-law signed a lease with High Bridge Wind.
“This was an issue that was brought to the Supervisor’s attention throughout the process to adopt the Local Law,” the filing read. “The Supervisor refused to recuse himself.”
Seneck is also a member of the Chenango County Planning Board and failed to recuse himself from the review process of the local law. Meeting minutes note that Seneck discussed the law or the project at planning board meetings from February to August but abstained from the Aug. 13 vote to approve the law.
“Considering the severity of the actions by the Town Supervisor and number of the Town Code of Ethics that have been violated the petitioners argue this rises to the level warranting the Supervisor be removed from office,” the filing read.
Seneck and the petitioners dis not return calls for comment as of press time.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.