Gaines town supervisor disappointed with decision about Watt’s turbine

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 December 2015 at 12:00 am

GAINES – Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the town’s focus for pushing to have a 154-foot-high turbine moved at Watt Farms has been to protect the public.

The Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals voted on Dec. 4, 2013 that the turbine should be relocated farther away from a farm market, storage building and U-pick area of the farm on Route 98.

“The Zoning Board of Appeals exercised good judgment abiding by our zoning laws/ordinances for public safety,” Culhane said this afternoon. “No one said Chris Watt couldn’t have a turbine but we said he could not have it where it could fall on people.”

The issue was fought in court and on Friday a State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of Chris and Karen Watt, saying the turbine can stay put.

Judge James Punch has previously sided with the town, but he said in his decision on Friday that a “Determination and Order” from the State Department of Agriculture and Markets prompted him to reopen the matter. When he decided in favor of the Gaines ZBA in December 2014, Punch said Ag and Markets hadn’t yet issued its determination and order.

That agency, led by Commissioner Richard Ball, said forcing the Watts to relocate the turbine was unduly burdensome and would cost the farm $20,000.

Ag and Markets in that order 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 last January.

Culhane isn’t sure if this is the last action in the case, if the town has another option in challenging the ruling from Judge Punch.

“I am disappointed that Judge Punch reversed himself and agreed with Ag and Markets that public safety is not important in consideration of land use and applying our zoning ordinances,” Culhane said. “Judge Punch got it right twice before he got it wrong.”