Gaines and Watt will redo wind turbine permitting process

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 July 2013 at 12:00 am

GAINES – Two years ago Chris Watt erected a 150-foot-high wind turbine on his farm next to the Watt Farms Country Market on Route 98.

Next month he will go before town officials seeking approval for the project.

Watt believed the town took care of the permitting process properly before the windmill went up in August 2011. His next-door neighbor Mary Neilans and her brother Robert sued the town, claiming proper procedures weren’t followed. The board waived site plan review and didn’t offer residents a chance to comment on the turbine during a public hearing, according to their lawsuit in state Supreme Court.

The town and Watt said they followed the town and state laws for siting windmills for agricultural purposes. State Supreme Court Judge James Punch ultimately decided to put the issue back in the town’s hands. Punch issued a ruling in January 2012, not siding with either party.

Watt was a member of the Planning Board when the project was first approved. He abstained from voting.

The Town Board in January 2012 voted to abolish the Planning Board and shift its duties to the Zoning Board of Appeals. That board will hold a public hearing on Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. at Gaines Town Hall to take comments about the Watt project.

“We’ve done this before,” Watt told the ZBA during its meeting tonight after it set the hearing. “Why do you need to do the same thing again?”

Watt said he met the requirements for setbacks and an environmental impact statement with the project.

“I’m not sure the setbacks were followed,” responded ZBA member Marilynn Miller.

Watt said the project was approved by the town’s code enforcement officer two years ago.

“We’re just following through with the letter of the law,” said ZBA Chairman Michael Grabowski.