Gaines officials defend push to move turbine at Watt Farms

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 March 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – The issue of whether Watt Farms needs to move a 154-foot-high turbine away from its farm market and U-pick orchard will go to the state Appellate Court.

GAINES – The Town Board again said on Monday that town officials acted properly in demanding that Watt Farms move a wind turbine away from its farm market and U-Pick operation on Route 98.

The Town Zoning Board of Appeals said the project did not have a proper building permit. The ZBA said the site should have a 169.4 feet minimum setback (154 feet multiplied by 1.1).

James Punch, acting State Supreme Court judge in Orleans County, agreed with the Gaines officials in a December ruling.

The state Ag and Markets in January said the town was wrong to insist on the 169.4 foot setback. Forcing farm owners, 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.

The issue will now go to the State Appellate Court, Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said during the Town Board meeting on Monday. She said both sides will submit their filings to the court in April. She expects the arguments will be heard in October-November, with a decision to follow within 30 days.

She read the following statement prepared by attorney Dan Spitzer on Monday:

“The Board is extremely pleased that the State Supreme Court has determined that the ZBA acted properly in determining that the wind turbine was placed in a location that unnecessarily presented a threat to public health and safety.

“Based on a review of the record, such as the testimony of a number of patrons of the farm, the detailed site plans submitted by the Watts, the information provided by state and local agencies including proper setbacks, the Court found the ZBA had not acted ‘arbitrary and capricious’ in establishing a 169.4 foot setback from public use areas.

“The Court confirmed that the areas used for the train ride, farm market, corn maze and U-Pick’em areas were properly designated as public use areas.

“The Town Board reaffirms its support for the town’s agricultural community, noting that this was the only time in town history where the ZBA had been forced to take action to protect the public health and safety.

“The situation arose because the turbine was built on an illegally obtained building permit without proper review, and in violation of town laws and state setback guidelines. The ZBA, as directed by the Supreme Court, carefully reviewed the history of the turbine, evaluated submissions from the Watts, state agencies, and the public, and held an extended public input process (including a well-attended public hearing) before issuing its detailed findings.

“The ZBA’s involvement solely rose from the intersection of the turbine’s location and the farm’s public use areas. Towns are specifically granted the power to act on properties in Agricultural Districts where public safety is at issue, and, the ZBA limited itself to the minimum intrusion on farm practices to protect the public.

“The Town and the ZBA remains open to working with the Watts to resolve any outstanding issues in the best interests of the community.”