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Ag and Markets says Watt turbine shouldn’t be relocated

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 March 2015 at 12:00 am

Gaines wants tower to move for public safety issues

Photos by Tom Rivers – The 154-foot-high wind turbine at Watt Farms on Route 98 has been a source of litigation for two-plus years. The Town of Gaines wants the turbine to be moved away from the farm market and a U-Pick area.

GAINES – The State Department of Agriculture and Markets says the Town of Gaines was wrong to insist that a 154-foot-high wind turbine be moved away from a farm market and u-pick orchard at Watt Farms.

The Town of Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals made that decision on Dec. 4, 2013, and that decision was upheld this past December by James Punch, acting State Supreme Court judge in Orleans County.

However, Ag and Markets says forcing Chris and Karen Watt to move the turbine, at a cost of $20,000, is unreasonable and unnecessary, according to a letter on Jan. 14 from Richard A. Ball, commissioner of Ag and Markets.

He sent the letter to town officials, telling them they needed to comply with the Agriculture and Markets Law.

Town Supervisor Carol Culhane and Michael Grabowski, the Zoning Board of Appeals chairman, say the town is not obligated to reverse its decision based on the Ag and Markets determination.

“Agency staff members do not trump a Supreme Court judge,” Grabowski said.

The state agency also said the town didn’t use the proper setback distance. Gaines determined the setback distance by multiplying the 154-foot turbine by 1.1 for a 169.4-foot setback minimum.

Gaines officials said the turbine needed to be moved at least 169.4 feet away from the farm market, train ride course and designated u-pick areas.

Ag and Markets suggested the setback from “human-occupied buildings” be five times the rotor distance or five times 23.6 feet, which would be 118 feet for the Watt turbine. Ag and Markets based that suggestion from the recommendation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA.

NYSERDA uses that setback for buildings that are occupied a majority of the time and not occasionally, such as in Watt’s situation. The train route at Watt’s and the u-pick area are temporarily visited by the public and insisting on a setback there “unreasonably restricts the farm operation,” Ball said in his letter.

Instead of pushing to relocate the turbine, the town could insist that public access be restricted within 118 feet of the turbine’s tower or the turbine could be taken off-line during u-pick harvest within 118 feet of the tower, Commissioner Ball said.

Grabowski, the Gaines ZBA chairman, insists 169.4 feet should be the setback distance to ensure the public’s safety. He said Watt Farms is appealing Punch’s decision.

Culhane, the town supervisor, said she is confident the town has followed the law. The town has received legal advice on the issue from attorney Dan Spitzer, a land use specialist with the Hodgson Russ firm in Buffalo.

She said the town won’t change course based on the order from Ball.

“Ag and Markets doesn’t trump a State Supreme Court judge,” Culhane said.