Anti-turbine candidates see potential in Yates as thriving residential, small business community

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 September 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jim Simon, a candidate for town supervisor in Yates, said he opposes the Lighthouse Wind project in Yates and Somerset, saying it will have a negative impact on the overall community. He said he will push for town and county resolutions opposing the turbine project.

LYNDONVILLE – Three candidates endorsed by a grass roots anti-turbine group say the Yates community has plenty of potential to draw more residents and small businesses, without mammoth wind turbines.

Save Ontario Shores held a campaign rally on Tuesday evening for Jim Simon, Valerie Pratt and John Riggi. They will be on the ballot for the Republican Primary on Sept. 10.

The three all see a big upside for the community with the lakeshore, wildlife, committed residents and small-town charm.

They have the backing of Save Ontario Shores, which formed last December when the community learned that the lakeshore towns of Yates and Somerset were eyed for nearly 70 wind turbines that would peak at 570 feet tall (when the blade is at it’s highest point). Those are about 150 feet taller than many of the turbines in Wyoming County.

Save Ontario Shores started attending Yates Town Board meetings, and members say the Town Board hasn’t been responsive to their questions or demonstrated leadership in advocating for residents who would be harmed by the project.

Pratt, a candidate for Town Board in the Republican primary, said going to board meetings is like “talking to a wall.”

Richard Pucher, the retired Lyndonville school superintendent, has been active with Save Ontario Shores. He welcomed about 50 people to the campaign rally on Tuesday at the White Birch Golf Course.

“We decided the only way to get a response from the Town Board was to have a different Town Board,” Pucher told the crowd.

(The Town Board last month said it would form a committee that would work to survey residents about the proposed wind project. Somerset already did a survey that showed strong opposition to the project. Both Somerset and the Niagara County Legislature have gone on the record against the project.)

Simon has forced a Primary against incumbent Town Supervisor John Belson, who has the Republican endorsement.

John Riggi is a candidate for the Town Board and also president of Save Ontario Shores. He is pictured in front of a slide show of photos of the Yates community, including an apple orchard.

Pratt and Riggi, president of the Save Ontario Shores, are in a three-way race for the Town Board in the Primary. Incumbent Wes Bradley is the other candidate. Riggi noted that Bradley has attended many of the Save Ontario Shores meetings.

Bradley also has spoken out against a State Siting Committee that would only have two local representatives on a seven-person committee that would decide if the project is approved.

Simon said Bradley and Belson are both “good people,” but Simon said the current Town Board hasn’t done the proper outreach in the community, getting residents’ input on the proposed wind project and keeping them informed of the issue and other projects in the town.

Simon, the dean of the GCC campus centers in Albion and Medina, said Apex Wind Energy representatives should have met with Yates officials and community members long before it started getting leases from land owners for the project.

“We need to start this conversation over,” Simon said. “Apex came in without talking to the town.”

Simon said he would form a business advisory and tourism committee, as well as renewable energy committee if he is town supervisor.

He also would want to hear from residents about possible expansions of the town water system and work to enhance the town park, possibly adding bathrooms and playground equipment.

He would favor an overhaul of the town website to include more updates on town news, and also provide a way for residents to connect with board members and town officials.

Simon and his wife moved to Millers Road a decade ago with their eight children after he retired from the U.S. Air Force.

John Riggi says the hundreds of signs against the the wind project in Yates and Somerset shows a “mandate” against the project.

Riggi grew up in Caledonia, a small village in Livingston County, and moved to Yates with his wife of 34 years, Donna, to a lakefront home in May 2014. The location had long been a dream for the couple, which has three grown children.

Riggi works as director of quality at Baxter Healthcare in Medina. He said he would bring “data-driven analysis” to tackling issues in the town.

He sees potential in the town as a draw for residents and tourists with the agrcultural base, the bald eagles and other wildlife, and Lake Ontario, which has the potential to turn the Great Lakes communities from the Rust Belt to the “Blue Belt,” especially as California and other parts of the country struggle with drought.

Valerie Pratt speaks during the candidate rally on Tuesday.

Valerie Pratt, 22, said she would focus energy on revitalizing Main Street. She said Yates officials can pursue grants to bring in businesses and help repair buildings.

She said the Lyndonville school district is recognized as a top performer, including in national rankings. The community could use the school district’s reputation to attract more younger families, which could help revitalize neighborhoods.

Pratt was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and visited the Lyndonville area often to stay at the family property known as Robin Hill. She has worked the past year full-time for LynOaken Farms with its cider mill, winery and other special events.

She opposes the turbine project, believing companies are building the indstrial-size projects to gain tax credits without a long-term commitment to the communities.

“It’s a short-term get rich and leave quick project,” she said.