The following stories were posted on the Bob’s Local Reporting webpage with datelines during July 2019:
New Solar Law’s adoption urged at Enfield Public Hearing
by Robert Lynch, July 24, 2019
A proposed new Local Law, two years in the making, that would establish tighter regulations for commercial solar energy systems, breezed through a brief Public Hearing before the Enfield Town Board Wednesday night (July 24th). Four people spoke. Each speaker urged the law’s adoption. The Hearing lasted less than 15 minutes.
The proposal “does a good job of protecting a rural community from being one big solar installation, while also welcoming solar to this town,” stated Nancy Spero of North Van Dorn Road. Spero’s words typified those of most who spoke.
Dan Walker, Chair of the Enfield Planning Board, praised the draft law, saying, “This law is not extreme on either end.”
Enfield has been subject to a twice-extended 12-month moratorium that’s blocked new commercial solar applications since June 2017. The moratorium, now in month twenty-five, is set to expire August 31st. Town Board members anticipate the new regulations, add-ons to the town’s Site Plan Review Law, to be adopted prior to the moratorium’s expiration.
Under the law’s proposed revisions, solar applications by residential or small-scale agricultural interests would remain largely unaffected. However, defined Large-Scale Solar Systems would be compelled to meet new, more stringent requirements affecting siting, size, setbacks, aesthetic impact, and most importantly, their eventual decommissioning. The proposed law would permit the town to declare a solar site abandoned and order its decommissioning, or else dismantle the site itself at operator expense, should the system fail to meet predicted electrical power output levels over a one year period.
Several Large-Scale Solar Systems, approved prior to the 2017 moratorium, currently operate in Enfield.
Town Councilperson candidate Robert Lynch (this writer), addressing the Hearing, acknowledged that he supports the law’s adoption only “reluctantly.” Lynch said he likes certain provisions and dislikes others. “But for us to sort the ‘likes’ from the ‘dislikes’ at this late date would only eat up more time, and would likely prolong the solar moratorium even longer,” he said.
Lynch added that the Solar Law’s adoption “should mark only the beginning, not the end, of our journey.” The candidate urged the Town Board to revisit the Solar Law in as little as one year’s time should its provisions discourage new solar operators from proposing sites in Enfield.
After the hearing, Town Supervisor Beth McGee suggested that her town consider what percentage of its available land should be devoted to solar farms, McGee indicating that solar farms could become too prevalent. McGee warned that farmers who lease to solar firms would likely lose their agricultural exemptions for the leased land and be subject to tax penalties.
Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey asserted that those who’ve commented toward the town’s proposed Comprehensive Plan have said they want to keep Enfield rural.
“Our main role is to protect the well-being of the people of the Town of Enfield, not the industry that wants to come in,” Mehaffey stated.
A final vote on the new Solar Law is likely at a special Town Board Meeting August 21st.
Enfield Board advances Extension of Wind Law Moratorium to Hearing
by Robert Lynch, July 17, 2019
The Enfield Town Board, by a vote of four to one, Wednesday (July 17th) advanced to Public Hearing a Local Law that would extend for three additional months the town’s more than two year old moratorium on new commercial wind energy facilities.
The extension, proposed and authored by Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, would not affect the town’s companion moratorium on new solar energy operations. Both the wind moratorium and the solar moratorium are set to expire August 31st. Mehaffey’s proposal would extend the wind moratorium until November 30th, but end it sooner should a revised Wind Law, currently in the drafting, be enacted before then.
Mehaffey said she believes either the moratorium or the tougher new wind regulations needs to be in place without interruption “to protect the health and safety of residents.”
A tougher wind energy law for Enfield has been in the planning stages for approximately two years, but is only now reaching its final stages of review. The town’s new Solar Law, meanwhile is on a faster track, scheduled for its presumed final Public Hearing July 24th. Board members anticipate the Solar Law will be enacted before the current moratoria expire.
Some, including this writer, had expected Wednesday’s vote on the Mehaffey initiative to be closer than it was. Only Councilperson Becky Sims opposed adding the extra three months. Supervisor Beth McGee, who in recent weeks had taken a hands-off approach to Mehaffey’s proposal, had earlier given strong indications she’d oppose further extensions. Only Mehaffey and fellow Councilperson Michael Carpenter had publicly endorsed the extension. The fifth Board member, Virginia Bryant, had not publicly expressed her view.
As Wednesday’s vote approached, Bryant’s reticence signaled the possibility that the measure might fail. Yet Bryant later voted for the extension.
Afterward, Bryant said those drafting the new Wind Law had invested so much time and effort in undertaking their “due diligence,” that she wouldn’t want to see their efforts fail for lack of time.
Neither Supervisor McGee nor Councilperson Sims stated during Wednesday’s session why they voted as they did.
Wednesday’s vote was procedural. It merely advances the extended moratorium to an August 14th Public Hearing, only after which the Town Board would give the extension legal effect.
The wind and solar moratoria, twice extended already, were first adopted in June 2017.
Mehaffey also confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting that she and Jude Lemke of the Renewable Energy Advisory Committee would be willing to pay personally for an Environmental Law specialist’s review of the 57-page Wind Law draft, its text authored in large part by Lemke’s committee.
Estimates given at the meeting pegged the cost of the specialist, an attorney yet to be chosen, at $2,500. Mehaffey and Lemke said later that they believe the law’s complexity demands review by an expert. They’d first wait for the town to appoint the attorney. If the town did, each would contribute toward his retainer. If not, they’d retain the environmental lawyer themselves.
Wind, Solar Moratorium extension proceeds toward a vote
by Robert Lynch, July 11, 2019
Members of the Enfield Town Board will move as soon as July 17th to extend, this for the third time, the Town’s more than two-year old moratorium on commercial wind and solar facilities.
Town Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey stated to the Board Wednesday night (July 10th) that she intends to bring the moratorium’s extension up for a vote July 17th. It remains uncertain whether Mehaffey will have enough votes for the measure to pass.
Enfield imposed its Wind and Solar Moratorium in June 2017 following a town-wide controversy over the now-presumed-defunct plans for the Black Oak Wind Farm. Town officials then agreed that they needed the moratorium to allow them time to draft stricter regulations to control wind and solar operations. The moratorium was originally written to last just 12 months. But it has since been extended twice, most recently in December 2018, and is now entering its 25th month.
The Mehaffey initiative, if approved, would end the moratorium on December 31st of this year, or sooner should new wind and solar regulations, now under review as separate laws, be approved by the Town Board and take effect before then.
Passage of any further extension remains in doubt since Town Supervisor Beth McGee has previously expressed her reluctance to extend the application bans beyond August 31st.
Wednesday, McGee, contrary to her customary practice, took a noticeably hands-off approach to Mehaffey’s initiative.
At a special Town Board meeting July first, both Mehaffey and Councilperson Michael Carpenter voiced general support for extending the moratorium. McGee then was joined by Councilperson Becky Sims in expressing her reluctance. The fourth Councilperson, Virginia Bryant, not present at the earlier session, has not publicly taken a position. Bryant could cast the deciding vote.
Mehaffey Wednesday maintained good cause exists for waving away wind and solar farm applications until the newly-drafted laws are in place.
“The reason for continuing it [the Moratorium] is the same as for having it,” Mehaffey said.
Mehaffey acknowledged that the solar portion of the moratorium extension might be rendered moot by the time of its adoption, since the new Solar Law, scheduled for a Public Hearing July 24th, might be adopted before the end of August.
The Town Board is currently in the final stages of reviewing a much more detailed, and presumably more controversial, law to regulate commercial and residential wind turbines. Some members had hoped the Wind Law would also be adopted by August. However, Mehaffey’s initiative suggests the Wind Law’s adoption timetable could extend beyond that date.
If past procedure guides current action, the moratorium’s extension would require its own Public Hearing, said hearing yet to be scheduled.
Board delays decision on cemetery closings pending survey
by Robert Lynch, July 10, 2019
Contrary to the strong indication its members gave last month, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday (July 10th) declined to proceed with a plan to sell-off all remaining town cemetery space during the next two years for cremations only and then close the cemeteries to future burials permanently.
The cemetery closing proposal, first advanced by Supervisor Beth McGee at a special meeting June 17th, was not raised Wednesday for discussion, even though the subject “Cemetery Recommendations” had been placed under “New Business” on the Board’s agenda.
Instead of taking immediate action on the four cemeteries’ future, several members of the town’s “Cemetery Committee” will survey the burial grounds early next month and report their findings at the Board’s August 14th meeting.
At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Robert Lynch (this writer), under Privilege of the Floor, urged the Board not to close the cemeteries to future use.
“If we choose to make Enfield our home, should we not also choose to make it our final resting place?” Lynch asked.
Referring to Town Supervisor Beth McGee’s earlier suggestion that cemetery maintenance and sale of burial plots is inconvenient and costly, Lynch said, “Yes, maintaining town cemeteries is a pain…. But ensuring our residents the opportunity to be buried in our community, Enfield, and not force them to go to Ithaca or someplace else, is an Enfield Community Value each of us should encourage.”
At that point, Supervisor McGee spoke up and urged Lynch never again to quote her in any of his online news stories. Councilperson Michael Carpenter opined that McGee’s quotes were inappropriate only because they could be taken out of context.
Lynch responded that he stands by his reporting.
Sue Thompson, chair of the town’s Cemetery Committee, said Wednesday that her group recommends that one of the four cemeteries, “Presbyterian,” near the heart of Enfield Center, be closed to sales because it’s full. The August survey, Thompson said, will confirm whether any burial spots remain at Budd Cemetery on Gray Road or Rolfe Cemetery on Applegate Road.
The only town cemetery known to hold unsold plots is the “Christian Cemetery” north of Enfield Center. That cemetery, Thompson estimated, has approximately 50 full-size plots available for sale, down from the 80 plots previously calculated.
Enfield Board finishes first-round review of Wind Law; cuts proposed setback requirement in half
by Robert Lynch, July 9, 2019
“I think I’m done.”
With those words, Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee Tuesday (July 9th) closed her Town Board’s third special meeting in six weeks devoted to review of a draft revised Wind Law handed up by the town’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee. The Board anticipates a Public Hearing and presumed adoption of the law by late-August.
The night’s most significant revision came when the Board cut in half the earlier-proposed one-mile setback requirement from neighboring residences, property lines and roads that any commercial wind farm developer would have to meet to win Town Board approval.
The harsher one-mile restriction had been advanced by the Advisory Committee. At the Board’s earlier meeting May 29th, Supervisor McGee had equated the one-mile minimum as an effective “ban” on commercial wind energy development. McGee Tuesday reiterated her position, terming the one-mile limit “excessive.” None of the four Board members in attendance voiced support for the Committee’s more preclusive restriction.
Instead, those members discussed extensively how to balance the setback requirement with wind turbine height. Members agreed that higher structures should require longer setbacks.
As left by the Board, but subject to revision later, wind turbine height would be capped at 500 feet. But if taller turbines were eventually authorized, the setback would be at a minimum of four times the structure’s height. McGee suggested that wind operators are now favoring taller turbines, and she cautioned that 700-foot windmills might be proposed. If so, she said, a 2,800 foot setback should be the standard.
Meanwhile, the Board retained in the proposed law an equally significant, though more abstract, legal standard that “all determinations” under the law should be based on the “Precautionary Principle,” a highly restrictive standard of law that would give any potential negative health, environmental, or safety risks the benefit of the doubt in the permitting process. Under language slightly revised by the Board, the Town would be “particularly conservative and cautionary in its regulations of industrial development.”
McGee acknowledged some do not view a wind farm as “industrial development,” but she does.
“If we have to build a whole state highway corner” to accommodate turbines, and then rebuild town roads afterward, “I’ll consider that industrial development,” McGee insisted.
The Supervisor and other Board members further suggested that the Town scrutinize landowner waivers to wind farm developers, warning that private owners might not be sophisticated or cautious enough to sign leases on their own without official guidance.
Left largely unchanged by the Board Tuesday was the 57-page draft law’s regulation of new wind generators installed by homeowners or farmers. Small, noncommercial applicants would still have to meet height and noise level restrictions. Some Board members favored waiving a few engineering submissions during the application stage.
The Town Board eyes putting the new Wind Law in place before a twice-extended two-year-old moratorium on new commercial wind and solar facilities is set to expire August 31st.
Though its line-by-line review of the draft Wind Law is effectively finished, the Town Board will reconvene July 17th to restudy the draft, allowing Councilperson Becky Sims, absent Tuesday, to offer her opinions.
Enfield Board ponders more restrictive Wind Law; sets Hearing for Solar Law
by Robert Lynch, July 2, 2019
Faced with an end-of-August expiration of its Wind and Solar Moratorium, the Enfield Town Board Monday (July 1st) authorized a rapid-fire series of July meetings to finalize a revised local law to tighten regulations on new commercial and residential wind generation facilities.
The Board also left open the possibility that the current Wind Moratorium, already twice extended from its original 12-month duration, could be extended yet again, though probably without unanimous Board support.
At the same meeting, the Town Board set July 24th for a Public Hearing on the far-less-controversial local law to regulate commercial solar farms.
The Solar Law drew minimal attention at Monday’s Board working session. Instead, the four Board members attending (Councilperson Virginia Bryant was absent) labored for two hours embarking upon a line-by-line review of the intricately-detailed and highly-restrictive draft Wind Law submitted in May by the town’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee.
No votes were taken on the Wind Law draft. Instead of amending the draft through Parliamentary Procedure, members offered suggested revisions informally, referring changes to Advisory Committee member Jude Lemke for incorporation into a revised document.
At the close of Monday’s review, the Board agreed to meet for three more sessions in July, on the ninth, the 17th and the 24th, to plow its way through the proposed wind regulations. Monday’s review covered only the first 19 pages of the 57-page draft.
The four members present appeared evenly split as to whether to extend the existing now 26-month moratorium so as to preclude any commercial wind developer from filing an application between the moratorium’s expiration and any new law’s effective date. Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, a moratorium supporter and wind farm critic, even speculated that the backers of the now-defunct Black Oak Wind Farm could come back and renew the proposal they’d supposedly abandoned in 2017.
“Leases still exist,” warned Mehaffey. “I’m not confident [the proposal is] dead and gone.” She added, “It would be imprudent of us” not to “protect the Town.”
Councilperson Michael Carpenter generally agreed with Mehaffey. He said he’d be willing to extend the moratorium for “a few more months.”
But Supervisor Beth McGee and Councilperson Becky Sims were more reluctant. McGee, who’d previously voiced opposition to further extensions, indicated that if other Board members want a further extension, they’d have to take the initiative, not her.
“I’m not terrified something [bad] is going to happen,” McGee remarked.
With Councilperson Bryant absent Monday, the prospect arose that any extension vote could produce a two-two split, with Bryant the tie-breaker.
Monday’s informal, yet detailed review of Wind Law language revealed no Board opposition to the law in general. Nor did it suggest any member wants to make the law’s provisions less restrictive. To the contrary, aside from initial comments that the law’s “tone” should be softened, most suggestions would tighten regulation in matters relating to fire protection, potential mechanical failure, or environmental damage.
The Board, led at most times by Supervisor McGee, ventured into worst-case Doomsday scenarios involving turbines catching fire, toppling over, or “bolts dropping” onto humans or livestock.
Sims suggested the draft law’s mandated Fire Protection Plan for wind farm operators needed “beefing up.” Councilperson Carpenter theorized about “wind propellers catching fire and spewing tons of toxic gas across the countryside.”
McGee cautioned operators might need to contract with fire companies better-equipped than Enfield’s to fight wind turbine fires.
“What can [ill-equipped firefighters] do?” McGee asked. They only can “see turbines catching fire, propellers falling off, potentially on themselves.”
McGee also urged new rules to prohibit so-called “gag orders,” clauses in wind farm lease agreements that limit the owners from publicly discussing their agreements’ details.
“If someone’s going to sell property to NYSEG and put a power station there, I’d like to be able to bring that person before the Town Board,” the Supervisor said.
McGee did not indicate how she intended legally to compel owner testimony, by subpoena or otherwise.
The only member of the public to address the Town Board Monday was Advisory Committee member Marcus Gingerich, who cautioned the Board not to downplay the fact that some view wind turbines as a mere annoyance.
“Sounds are not the same,” argued the Rumsey Hill Road resident. “Crickets are louder than wind turbines.” Yet turbines, he said, can be as annoying as a baby crying on an airplane.
Kirchgessner, Norman withdraw from Enfield races; Supervisor McGee left unopposed
by Robert Lynch, July 1, 2019
Amanda Kirchgessner, loser in last week’s Democratic Primary for nomination as Enfield Town Supervisor, has withdrawn her third-party candidacy for that office. Kirchgessner’s running mate, Paul Norman, has similarly withdrawn his bid for Town Councilperson.
Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee first revealed the declinations before Monday’s Town Board Meeting. Kirchgessner, in response to this reporter’s inquiry, subsequently confirmed her withdrawal.
Kirchgessner’s declination virtually assures incumbent McGee, who beat Kirchgessner handily in last week’s voting, a second two-year term. McGee is now running unopposed on both the Democratic and Republican lines.
Kirchgessner stated that her withdrawal was a “hard decision,” made late last Thursday night.
“Enfield needs a tremendous amount of love and attention that I am currently unable to give at this time,” Kirchgessner stated. “While I continue to desire to better serve my community, the best way I am able to do that at this point in time is through volunteering at the Enfield Food Pantry,” she added.
Tompkins County Democratic Elections Commissioner Steve DeWitt had confirmed to this reporter, Mr. Lynch, last Friday (June 28th) that Paul Norman had declined his third-party line. However, Lynch chose to withhold release of Norman’s withdrawal to allow Paul first the opportunity to release his own statement announcing the decision. To date, Norman has not done so. However, Monday’s public statement by Supervisor McGee rendered moot any further withholding of Norman’s declination.
Following last Tuesday’s Democratic Primary and the opening of absentee ballots the following day, Supervisor McGee led Kirchgessner in the party nomination race 147 votes (66.2%) to 75 votes (33.8%). Paul Norman, meanwhile, came in fourth on a four-way race for two seats on the Town Board, securing 72 votes compared to winners’ Robert Lynch (this writer’s) 142 votes and Stephanie Redmond’s 132.
Both Kirchgessner and Norman had intended to run on the “for Enfield” independent line. Town Clerk candidate Mary Cornell, who also lost, albeit narrowly, in the Democratic Primary remains a “for Enfield” ballot nominee.[This story has been updated; July 1, 2019 at 11:26 PM]
For earlier-posted stories, view the May-June Reporting Archives sub-heading under this tab.