Residents pack Yates meeting, voice concerns over wind project
By Howard Balaban, Correspondent
LYNDONVILLE – If Sabres fans are excited about the dawn of the Jack Eichel Era, then Thursday night’s Yates Town Board meeting featured just as much enthusiasm.
Only on the opposite end of the spectrum.
A packed town hall featured residents from Yates, Somerset and a few other surrounding areas as many voiced their displeasure with the board for not yet passing any type of resolution against a proposed wind turbine project on the shores of Lake Ontario.
With comments ranging from specific to vague, from general to personal, the public comment period of the meeting lasted for more than an hour. In the past few days, the Town of Somerset passed a resolution taking a stance against the proposed wind installation. One Somerset resident who attended the Yates meeting read that resolution “in the spirit of collaboration.”
Part of the reason the resolution passed was included in its language, as it was based on community survey results that “decisively show the overwhelming majority oppose the project.” That town also looked to get the backing of local state officials in opposing the project.
Another Somerset resident, who was originally in favor of the project, said she switched sides as she delved into the research more and more. She encouraged the Yates Town Board to find scientific studies concerning the environment and wildlife, among other issues, in making their decision. She also talked about how property values would decline as turbines went up.
Many other residents voiced their displeasure with the proposed wind project. One Yates resident opened the meeting with a prepared statement, addressing the board with a series of questions. Among them were how can the public be assured Apex, the developer of the project, is compliant with state code, why is the board allowing a perceived lack of transparency to exist, and why do the property leases for turbine usage essentially include gag orders?
One resident from the Town of Eagle in Wyoming County, which is home to a wind energy project, disputed the property value depreciation and gag order claims.
Complaints and concerns persisted. The proposed turbines will be 570 feet tall – bigger than the other industrial wind projects in the state. One resident called them “killing machines.” Another resident said the project would likely benefit from a PILOT agreement (payment in lieu of taxes) but cautioned that the PILOT money would reach town residents last, meaning taxes would be unlikely to be affected.
Another resident took a combative tone and asked when the board was going to “tell us what’s promised to us” and “be willing to share with us what’s coming our way?”
Town Supervisor John Belson assured him there was nothing to share yet, but that comment was met with derision as the resident accused Belson and the rest of the board of lying.
That speaker was not alone, as a different Yates woman asked the board, “How can you sit there and say nothing to your constituents?” She continued, “A lot of us feel like you are in with Apex, and if you’re not then tell us.”
Upon Belson saying they were not, the woman added, “Well, you’d have a hard time convincing me.”
Several others accused the Yates Board and other local officials of being paid in some way by Apex, but those accusations were categorically denied.
Belson explained that part of the reason the board has had little to say on the project is that it has not been officially approached about the project.
“We had a 15-minute meeting last year, and we had no idea the project was moving forward in Somerset and that it would possibly include us until I read it in the Pennysaver last fall,” he said. “We knew something was going on, but no one here was involved.”
Taylor Quarles, the development manager for the proposed Apex project, gave a brief update to the board and the gathered crowd.
Quarles said the preliminary scoping statement is expected to be completed by late summer, and revisions to that statement would possibly be made after all feedback was given. The statement would essentially include 41 separate studies about the proposal which would allow the project to “be judged on its own merits” at that time.
Quarles mentioned that he felt the Somerset board made a premature decision “before all the information was gathered.”
He added, “We’re in the very early stages of the Article 10 process.” That process includes gathering meteorological information from the newly erected tower on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Quarles noted an office has been set up in Barker where he will be available to answer residents’ questions.
Once the public comment period ended, the main portion of the board’s agenda was quickly gone through. Then, a few board members spoke up.
Wes Bradley read a statement he had prepared, and in it he expressed his love for the community. He also requested “good citizenship” moving forward with town meetings. He asked that residents avoid rhetoric and personal attacks because that would lead to the community being lost.
Bradley added that the board has remained mostly silent due to a lack of anything to comment on from Apex up to this point.
“We have no preliminary scoping statement, no community agreement,” he said. “If we do get that, then we’ll comment.”
Town Council members Jim Whipple and Brian Bentley added that they have mostly refrained from comment because of the lack of official documents from Apex.
Bentley said he appreciated the public’s enthusiasm and showing up to express itself. Whipple acknowledged those in attendance, but noted there were still others who would be affected by the project who had yet to be heard.
Belson added an assurance that the board “does take you all seriously” and that “it’s been a helluva six months.” But he also said that any board decision needs to be made with all of the information and can’t be based on speculation.