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County planners back Yates in revised wind ordinance with much bigger setbacks

Photos by Tom Rivers: Yates Town Supervisor Jim Simon addresses the Orleans County Planning Board on Thursday.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 January 2018 at 9:41 am

YATES – The Orleans County Planning Board voted in favor of revisions to the wind energy facilities law in Yates that would ban wind turbines from within 3 miles of the Lake Ontario shoreline and also require bigger property setbacks of at least a half mile. The proposed revisions also would insist turbines be quieter than the current regulations.

Taylor Quarles, project manager for Lighthouse Wind, said the changes represent “a wind energy ban” in Yates. Apex Clean Energy wants to put as many as 70 turbines in Yates and Somerset that would be about 600 feet high.

Town Supervisor Jim Simon said the proposal would keep the turbines away 3 miles from the lake and would protect homeowners from having the turbines too close.

Terry Brown, a County Planning Board member from Carlton, asked if there were any lots in Yates that would be big enough to accommodate a turbine under the proposed ordinance.

Taylor Quarles, project manager for the proposed Lighthouse Wind, said the Yates proposal represents “a wind energy ban.”

Even with the bigger setbacks, Simon said there is still land were the turbines could be located in Yates.

“There would still be locations in town (for turbines),” Simon told the County Planning Board. “We can’t ban them.”

He said the bigger setbacks will protect “non-participating land owners” and help to preserve the rural nature and character of the town.

Simon said 3-mile buffer from the shoreline follows a recommendation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sees the 3-mile section along the shoreline as an important flyway for birds.

But Quarles said Simon is misstating the Fish and Wildlife Service stance. That 3-mile buffer was for a project in Michigan, Quarles said.

(Somerset also is proposing a 3-mile buffer from the shoreline.)

The changes in the Yates ordinance also include:

• Reducing the allowable noise decibels to “residential receivers” from 45 during the day (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) to 42, and from 40 at nighttime to 39 decibels. Simon said that follows recommendations from the Vermont Public Service Board for lower decibels. Simon said the turbine noise and “infrasound” can disturb sleep, causing negative health effects for people. The infrasound is a lower frequency of noise that can disrupt a person’s equilibrium, Simon said.

• The current setbacks from non-participating property lines is a minimum of 3 times the turbine height for land with houses or buildings, and 4.5 times the turbine height for vacant land. The proposed change increases the minimum setback to a half-mile (2,640 feet) or 6 times the turbine height, whichever is greater.

• The setback from roads and public right-of-ways is a minimum of 1,800 feet or 3 times the height of a turbine. Yates is proposing to increase that to a half-mile or 6 times the turbine height.

• The setback from the boundary of the Village of Lyndonville is currently 1,800 feet or 4.5 times a turbine height. Yates wants to increase that setback to a minimum of 1 mile.

• The setback from the boundaries from other towns is currently 1,800 feet or 3 times a turbine’s height. Yates is proposing a half-mile setback or 6 times a turbine’s height, whichever is greater.

• The setback from residences is currently 1,800 feet or 4.5 times a turbine height. Yates is proposing to increase that to a half-mile or 6 times a turbine’s height.

• In addition, Yates is now proposing setbacks of 1 mile from schools, churches, and cemeteries. The town law currently doesn’t include setbacks for those sites.

Paul Hendel, a County Planning Board member from Murray, said he expects Apex will legally challenge the Yates proposals. Hendel said he didn’t want to see the County Planning Board or county get pulled into a lawsuit.

“I respect every town’s right to enact local laws,” Hendel said. “But I want to protect the county and this board.”

Jim Bensley, the county’s director of Planning and Development, said the county should be immune from a lawsuit because it only issues advisory opinions.

The Planning and Development staff said research cited by Yates to back on the bigger setbacks is “credible and reliable.”

The state has created a Siting Board to review larger turbine projects. Apex hasn’t submitted a final application for Lighthouse Wind. Quarles said the company is hoping to submit a final application later this year for the project in Yates-Somerset, and also for one proposed in Barre.

The Siting Board could override the local wind energy ordinances.

“It remains to be seen whether the Article 10 siting board will respect the zoning of the communities that restrict wind developments of the scale that is being proposed,” County Planning and Development staff wrote in its review of the Yates ordinance.

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