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July 5, 2012

 

Wind farm review OK’d

Public has month to comment on environmental impacts

WindJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Iva Gilbert, who lives on Town Line Road in Solon, watches a large balloon, top left, used to test wind speed in the area on Tuesday. TCI Renewables is gathering the data for its proposed wind farm in the county. Gilbert would have a windmill erected on her property.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County officials accepted the United Kingdom-based wind company’s draft environmental outline of its proposed wind farm Tuesday at a special meeting of the Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee.
The document outlines the various environmental impacts that the developer, TCI Renewables, will address in its environmental review of the project. The firm proposes building about 50 500-foot wind turbines in Cortlandville, Solon, Homer and Truxton.
The documents, known as scoping documents, can be viewed on the county Website or are available in printed form at the Legislature office in the County Office Building.
The public can give feedback on the documents in written form to Legislature Clerk Jeremy Boylan. A public meeting to accept comments will be held at 6 p.m. July 23 in the auditorium of the County Office Building.
The committee expanded to 30 days the time frame for public review. A 20 day time frame had been discussed but officials felt more time was warranted.
Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) voted against accepting the documents, saying she was not convinced the county followed proper procedures outlined by the state.
The State Environmental Quality Review mandates that an application must be received before the lead agency can declare whether the project will impact the environment, she said.
The Legislature at its June 28 meeting declared the project would have an impact on the environment, setting into effect the process of accepting the scoping documents and allowing for public review.
But Arnold, County Attorney Ed Purser and Planning Department Director Dan Dineen said no application for the project was ever received.
The county is the lead agency on the project, coordinating all the environmental reviews.
TCI Renewables Project Manager Gareth McDonald said the firm submitted an environmental assessment form and project description in November 2008, which he says the firm’s lawyers claim constitute an application. He said the project description was amended June 26 to update the document.
Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) and Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee Chair Dan Ross (R-Cortlandville) said they trusted the expertise of the company’s lawyers and engineers who advised the county it was safe to proceed with accepting the documents. The county hired lawyer Pat Snyder Thursday to oversee the project but he is on vacation.
Arnold also says the towns never received applications so even if what the county received constitutes an application, that is not sufficient.
“To be considered an application, the jurisdiction has to be able to approve or disapprove and the county doesn’t have the jurisdiction to approve or disapprove, the towns are the ones who have project approval (authority),” Arnold said.
Arnold is concerned that if the county did not follow proper SEQR procedure, it is opening itself up to a lawsuit from aggrieved property owners.
She says the county should have also completed two additional parts of the environmental assessment form that it has not filled out.
Rick VenVertloh, an engineer with LaBella, did not return a phone call for comment by press time.
Chris Bushnell, who owns property in Solon near the proposed towers, said at the meeting he is concerned his property value would diminish while his neighbors who have leases with the firm would profit financially.
“I have a lot of questions. I want to build a retirement home there and I would like not to have a windmill across the street,” Bushnell said. Bushnell said he has spent thousands of dollars over the years in improving the property, an investment he would not have made if he had known a windfarm would be built on nearby land.
Bushnell also questions whether local labor will be used to erect the towers, saying he would like workers in his construction union to get work if the project proceeds.
Now that the documents have been received and a public meeting set, the county has 60 days to respond to TCI with all its comments. TCI does not have to consider any comments received after this period.
McDonald said TCI will begin compiling its draft environmental impact statement once it receives comments from the county and the public. The firm expects to turn the draft impact statement into the county by the end of the summer.
Feedback on the proposed environmental documents could include questions about whether the firm has done a bird impact assessment, or studied the visual impact of the turbines or conducted a sound level impact assessment, he said.
McDonald said the firm’s studies have been comprehensive.
“Our environmental consultant and legal counsel and the lead agency’s legal counsel and engineers don’t believe anything will come up that was not already covered,” McDonald said.

 

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