Tompkins Committee resists call by second county, pols to delay criminal justice reforms
by Robert Lynch, November 28, 2019
A committee of Tompkins County’s Legislature this week resisted calls by another New York county and by prominent lawmakers, including Congressman Tom Reed, to amend or delay the January implementation of new criminal justice laws reforming bail and pre-trial discovery in New York.
Rather, a four-page resolution, adopted Monday (Nov. 25th) by the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, urges the State to provide local judges “additional comprehensive guidance,” and counties “technical assistance” and “financial support” as they implement the new, more defendant-friendly laws.
The full County Legislature will take up the committee’s resolution next Tuesday (December third).
Most notably, the Public Safety Committee’s measure stopped short of endorsing a call by the Warren County Board of Supervisors for New York to “immediately amend or otherwise delay implementation” of the new laws, now set to take effect January first.
Warren County’s resolution, which it had circulated to other counties for recommended adoption, also urges judges retain “the discretion to impose bail when appropriate” for a wide variety of crimes, many of them misdemeanors, for which the new law would soon prohibit bail’s imposition.
Warren County’s resolution urges the State Legislature to convene an emergency session or Governor Cuomo to use his “emergency executive authority” before year’s end to stay the implementation of the new bail and discovery reforms.
On Tuesday (Nov. 26th) Representative Tom Reed joined a group of moderate and conservative New York Congressmen, most of them Republican, to urge rollback of the new criminal justice laws.
“While we agree criminal justice reform has long been needed around the country, New York State’s new soft-on-crime bail laws, which will let dangerous criminals roam free, endanger their victims, and hamstring the authorities who want to hold them accountable, that is not the answer,” the joint Congressional statement concluded.
“Additionally, this new law will cripple local counties and municipalities that will be forced to pass along new, unfunded mandates required in the bill to local taxpayers.” Congressman Reed’s group added.
Tompkins County’s lawmakers appear to agree with that latter point. The Public Safety Committee’s resolution insists that “the guidance and training provided by New York State to date has been inadequate to effectively provide training on bail reform.” The Committee adds that “if successful bail reform is a New York State legislative goal, and it should be, then the New York State Legislature should fully fund the cost of these changes….”
But none of the Public Safety Committee’s ten recommendations went so far as did Warren County’s to urge implementation delays or legislative revisions. Nor does the local measure call for an emergency legislative session or gubernatorial intervention.
Rather, aside from concerns about state funding and guidance, the Public Safety Committee’s resolution states, “Tompkins County supports the amendment to the bail requirements and the increased use of pretrial release to attempt to reduce the negative impacts of the bail system on people of limited financial resources.”
The Committee’s resolution continues that pretrial detention “comes with enormous costs, to individuals and society.” The local resolution states that those jailed awaiting trial “are likelier to lose their jobs, their homes, possibly their health insurance and custody of their children.”
The Committee claims that pre-trial detention disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color. “This exacerbates racial disparities in pretrial detention, and, due to the downstream consequences of detention, may exacerbate racial disparities in conviction, sentencing, and future employment.”
Under the sweeping bail and criminal discovery reforms enacted at the time of the annual State Budget last March, New York’s judges would be prohibited from imposing cash bail for most misdemeanors and for certain low-level felonies.
Local judges would still be permitted to impose bail for sex offenses and misdemeanor criminal contempt when there is an underlying allegation of domestic violence. However, for misdemeanors such as petit larceny, second-degree reckless endangerment, third-degree assault, and fourth-degree criminal mischief, the law would prohibit imposition of bail altogether.
Many New York prosecutors and victims’ advocates have asserted that the adopted reforms are too defendant-friendly and fail to recognize the rights of victims. Warren County’s Supervisors agreed, alleging that the reforms “will undeniably impact past, present, and future victims of crime in a negative manner,” and in so doing, “will themselves further victimize these innocent individuals.”
Warren’s Supervisors added that the reforms “represent a clear and present danger to society, will tilt the scales of justice in favor of suspected criminals and away from innocent crime victims, and risk reversing decades of bipartisan progress made by the State of New York in reducing crime.”
Tompkins County’s resolution steers clear of Warren County’s more critical language. Yet the local committee’s resolution acknowledges that, “Judicial discretion is an essential tool in allowing our judicial system to function.”
Tompkins’ resolution urges the State to instruct local criminal courts to “show leniency” in the application of certain deadlines for criminal discovery, the process whereby prosecutors—now, under new, more accelerated schedules— must disclose to defendants information which may assist them in their defense.
Warren County’s resolution would go farther. It would actually extend the discovery deadlines from those demanded under the new law. Warren’s Supervisors would also phase-in discovery deadlines so as to delay their application to felony crimes until January 2021.
Warren County and the Tompkins County Public Safety Committee do agree on one additional point. Both legislatures’ resolutions would repeal the new discovery law’s applicability to traffic infractions.
Note: The Utica Observer-Dispatch and the Buffalo News contributed to this story.
Paper ballots make little change in Enfield Election Night margins
by Robert Lynch, November 21, 2019
The numbers may be a little higher, but the victory margins enjoyed by Enfield’s winning candidates for Councilperson and Town Clerk remain virtually unchanged after Absentee and Affidavit paper ballots were opened Wednesday (Nov. 20th) at the Tompkins County Board of Elections.
According to the revised, though still unofficial, tallies, Stephanie Redmond and Robert Lynch (this writer) won their races for two open Town Councilperson seats, securing 68 and 67 per cent support, respectively, of the 791 ballots cast. The revised numbers include early voting, Election Day balloting, and the additional 31 timely-received Absentee and Affidavit Ballots opened Wednesday.
The revised totals show Redmond leading with 540 votes; Lynch securing the second position with 529 votes, and Darren McGee trailing with 209 votes (26%). The percentages remain virtually unchanged from the machine totals released following the November 5th General Election.
In the race for Town Clerk, the final totals gave Democratic nominee Ellen Woods 452 votes (57%) and her challenger, Mary Cornell, 251 votes (32%) of the total votes cast.
In two uncontested races, incumbent Supervisor Beth McGee was reelected with 608 (77%) of the ballots cast, while Barry “Buddy” Rollins was re-elected Highway Superintendent with 532 votes (67%).
Wednesday’s tallies also included, for the first time, results from the dozen “Emergency Ballots” that voters in District #3 (southern Enfield) chose to submit late Election Day after unexpectedly large voter turnout depleted the supply of electronic ballots readable by the voting machines.
Early-evening ballot shortages Election Day had impacted all three of Enfield’s voting districts, though District 3 was affected the worst. Board of Elections staff Wednesday confirmed that only in District 3 were Emergency Ballots cast. Voters in the two other districts either waited for ballot replenishment or were advised to return and vote later, according to on-site elections personnel.
In contrast with attendance following the June 25th Democratic Primary, when several candidates—and in one instance, their attorney—showed up to oversee the count, only one candidate (this writer) attended Wednesday’s opening. In the June Primary, it took the count of Absentee Ballots to give Ellen Woods the Democratic Clerk’s nomination, and by only a razor-thin margin. In the General Election, all successful Enfield candidates won by wide margins.
Inspection of the paper ballots Wednesday confirmed the conclusions drawn from the earlier machine voting. Many who voted in Enfield’s elections chose to vote only in some races, but not in others, so-called “undervoting”. Thus, for example, as many as 183 voters (23 per cent) declined to vote for incumbent McGee in the Enfield Supervisor’s race, though a few of those 183 wrote in the name of someone else.
The paper tallies elevated Enfield’s overall election turnout to 36 per cent, among the higher turnout percentages in Tompkins County. Without counting the paper ballots, turnout countywide from early or same-day machine voting approximated 29 per cent. In Lansing, where voters decided hotly-contested races for Supervisor and Town Council, turnout exceeded 40 per cent. And in Caroline, more than half the eligible electors voted.
The Board of Elections plans to post its updated figures from Enfield and elsewhere Thanksgiving week.
Public weighs in final time on Wind Law; Adoption now planned for early-December
by Robert Lynch, November 19, 2019; updated November 20, 2019
This law puts “closure on our life.”
Theresa Guler, among those most critical of commercial wind power in Enfield, expressed words of relief Tuesday (Nov. 19th) as the Enfield Town Board took testimony at the final of two Public Hearings on the Town’s much-delayed revised Wind Energy Facilities Law.
After receiving a dozen comments—eleven in person, one on writing—the Board postponed until a future meeting final action on the 61-page package of regulations. Observers expect the Board’s unanimous approval.
Adoption of the Wind Law would roughly coincide with the scheduled end of a 29-month moratorium on new commercial wind development in Enfield . The Board imposed the moratorium in June 2017 following intense debate over the proposed and eventually-abandoned Black Oak Wind Farm. Board members and community activists have argued the Town’s existing Wind Law provides residents too little protection.
Hearing comments about the proposed document were overwhelmingly positive. Most commenters, however, listed their residences as lying close to where Black Oak’s turbines would have stood. Many have attended prior hearings.
Wind energy and this law affect “every fiber in my body,” said Melinda Tesori of Black Oak Road.
Relieved at Black Oak’s demise and the Board’s rewrite initiative, Tesori added, “We had a second chance, and we took a second chance.”
One week ago, the Town Board rejected most of ten Recommendations advanced by Tompkins County’s Department of Planning and Sustainability. The Department had reviewed the law, found many of its provisions overly restrictive, and argued proposed setback requirements would “effectively ban” large wind generation facilities in Enfield.
Accepting those County revisions would have been “capitulation,” testified Jude Lemke, whose Renewable Energy Advisory committee had written much of the new Enfield law. Lemke defended her group’s draft as having “well thought-out reasoning.”
Only Enfield Councilperson-Elect Robert Lynch (this writer) criticized the Wind Law and said, if he were now sitting on the Board, he’d vote against it. Lynch said he regretted the Board had declined to embrace “compromise,” which he maintained the County’s Recommendations would represent.
Lynch also rebutted Board members’ assertions made one week ago that County planner’s erred in equating the draft law’s language to a ban.
“A ban is a ban, whether stated in one sentence or couched in a 23,000-word tortured tangle of burdensome regulations,” Lynch asserted. “I’m no lawyer, but a law that requires a wind developer to pay off neighbors so as to waive-away their legal rights sure sounds like an ‘effective ban’ to me.”
Lynch stressed his concern for human health, arguing that the Town’s setback limitations constitute “no more than arbitrary best-guesses” as to how far a turbine must be separated to safeguard against illness. Lynch said that, if seated, he’d have recommended retention of a “professional consultant” to find the answer.
To his suggestion, commenter Carolyn McMaster responded, that it would be “silly and counter-productive to go through this again with a supposed expert.”
Likewise, Nancy Spero maintained that the Committee’s work was sufficient and “amazingly well-researched.”
Only State law prevented the Town Board from adopting the Wind Law on the spot. Supervisor Beth McGee explained that paper copies of the law’s final draft must legally be in members’ hands a full seven days prior to adoption. Cutting the requirement as close as possible, the Board initially agreed to convene in just one week’s time, on Tuesday, November 26th, to take a final vote.
However, in a notice posted on its website late Wednesday (Nov. 20th) the Town informed residents that the adoption meeting is now set for Monday, December 2nd, two days after the Wind Moratorium’s expiration.
Following the Hearing, the Board labored for approximately an hour, filling out a Full Environmental Assessment Form, a 25-page State document, and thereafter voted that the Wind Law would have “no negative environmental impact.” The declaration frees the Town from having to prepare a more-detailed Environmental Impact Statement, as some members of the public have requested.
The Board’s answers to the Assessment Form’s many questions were read quickly. Before and immediately after the vote, only a blank form, not the completed text, was made available for public review.
And while one of the quickly-read answers stated that the Wind Law was not “inconsistent with any County plans or other regional land use plans,” the County’s Planning Commissioner had specifically determined that the Wind Law “may have negative inter-community or county-wide impacts.”
Tense Exchanges accompany Enfield Board’s action to curb Highway Chief’s spending
by Robert Lynch, November 14, 2019
With those words, Enfield Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins concluded a tense exchange with Supervisor Beth McGee Wednesday (Nov. 13), as the Enfield Town Board clamped new, tighter controls on Highway Department spending.
The restrictions, adopted unanimously by the Board as part of its annual budget resolutions, followed members’ learning in September that Rollins had purchased a $46,000 pickup truck, his personal official vehicle, without explicit Board permission.
Spending control measures adopted Wednesday would require a Town Board Resolution prior to the Superintendent’s tapping Reserve Funds for any major purchase.
Another adopted resolution directed that Rollins apply quarterly for reimbursement under the State’s “CHIPS” [Consolidated Highway Improvement] program. That latter resolution explained that quarterly reimbursement is necessary “to maintain proper cash flow.”
The Board still allows the Superintendent to purchase “tools, parts, supplies, equipment, and other items normally required in the completion of departmental work” without prior Board consent.
Less controversial, the Town Board also Wednesday adopted Enfield’s $2.15 Million budget, along with a first-ever Capital Plan and a Fund Balance Policy. The budget would require over $1.8 Million in taxes, a levy increase from the current year of just less than four per cent.
But it was the pair of spending constraints that prompted the unexpected sharp exchange between Rollins and McGee. Other Board members appeared to take the Supervisor’s side.
“You’re just tying my hands and making a hostile work environment,” Rollins complained to the Supervisor.
McGee responded that it is she who stands responsible for Town finances, and she cannot exercise that responsibility without tighter controls.
“You’re micromanaging!” the Highway Superintended answered. “And maybe I’ll start calling at three in the morning to see if you want the roads plowed.”
At that point, Rollins and his wife rose from their chairs and quietly walked out of the meeting room.
After the Superintendent’s departure, Councilperson Michael Carpenter, who’ll retire from the Board next month, looked directly at Enfield’s two incoming Councilpersons and said, “I hope the Board in the future is not held hostage by personalities.”
Striking a somewhat more conciliatory town, Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey then said, “I don’t want to tell him [Rollins] when to do a road and when not to do a road.”
In September, Rollins startled the Board by revealing he’d signed papers for a new $46,000 pickup without clearing the purchase with the Board. Members acknowledged at the time that Town spending rules were sufficiently ambiguous to make Rollins’ action presumptively legal. They then executed a budget transfer to remove any doubt. Nonetheless, McGee remained concerned about cash flow. Her concern led to Wednesday’s resolutions.
The Capital Plan, also authorized by the Board, would, in part, set aside tax moneys annually to shore-up the Highway Reserve account. But perhaps most controversially, it would also reallocate nearly $74,000 long earmarked for a potential New Town Hall and use the money, instead, for a Salt Storage Building.
Adoption of the Capital Plan did not, by itself, authorize the transfers. McGee indicated that the reauthorizations might commence in January.
Enfield Board will require a “license” for Sheriff’s Satellite Station
by Robert Lynch, November 14, 2019
A slightly more cautious Enfield Town Board Wednesday (Nov. 13th) invited the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department to quarter a proposed Satellite Substation in a portion of its Old Highway Barn, but will first demand a licensing agreement, revocable by the Town should lawmakers later change their minds.
The heretofore unmentioned licensing requirement came at the request of Councilperson Becky Sims, who told the Board of the substation plan, “I do have reservations about this.”
Sims’ concern reflected growing reservations by a few Town residents, reflected in a written comment submitted at a meeting last week, that the satellite office could lead to “dumping an increased police presence into a working class town,” and spawn “increased surveillance.”
Sheriff Derek Osborne, present at the earlier meeting, had assured the public that his Department’s intent is not “to get our hooks into Enfield.”
Wednesday night’s unanimously-adopted resolution authorized the Sheriff’s presence at the decommissioned Highway Facility, subject to the yet-to-be negotiated “license.” It also authorized up to $6,000 in Town-funded improvements at the Old Highway Barn. Nonetheless, the Town will ask the County Legislature to split the cost of new “energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment” for the building.
That latter request will require the consent of County lawmakers. Both the funding and the licensing requirement will likely delay deputies’ transfer to Enfield.
Town Supervisor Beth McGee and her husband, Darren, first advanced the substation idea in September. At first, the proposal generated virtually unqualified support. Reflecting that initial optimism, Wednesday’s resolution states that the satellite station will help make Enfield “a safe place for all residents.”
But voicing her reservations, Councilperson Sims told her colleagues she wants a revocable license so that the Town can terminate the Sheriff’s presence should the community turn against it.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” said Sims. “If it’s not working out, then we’ll stop.”
Board members saw no problem in authorizing the spending, even absent the license.
“The space needs fixing up,” Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey observed.
Supervisor McGee made clear that Wednesday’s resolution authorized only setting aside the space, not authorizing the license.
Town Board rebuffs County Planners; retains key elements of Proposed Enfield Wind Law
by Robert Lynch, November 12, 2019
In a sweeping rejection of recommendations by Tompkins County’s Department of Planning and Sustainability, the Enfield Town Board Tuesday (Nov. 12th) retained key elements of the Town’s proposed new and more-restrictive Wind Law, regulations County planners have equated to an “effective ban” on commercial wind power in the town.
Through a series of ten unanimous votes (Councilperson Michael Carpenter was absent) the Town Board retained the draft law’s controversial half-mile property setback requirement, affirmed the proposal’s demand that both commercial and residential wind turbines comply with lot line day and night noise limits, and opted for a “zero exposure” standard to regulate morning and evening “shadow flicker.”
As to that latter phenomenon, the Board placed within the draft law allegations that flicker-spawned “annoyance” could manifest itself in “malaise, fear, threat, trouble, uncertainty, restricted liberty experience, excitability, or defenselessness.” The County had recommended a wind developer mitigate shadow flicker only if it would likely occur more than 30 hours annually. Board members countered that a turbine should grind to a halt at all times when flicker is likely.
In vote after vote, the four attending Board members chose to embrace a November 5th rebuttal by Enfield’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, rather than the Planning Department’s report. The only County recommendations to receive the Board’s unqualified support were those which would regulate beyond the provisions of the initial draft law.
Whereas County Planning Commissioner Katherine Borgella’s report had concluded that the draft law’s half-mile lot line setback requirements “would effectively ban large WTG [Wind Turbine Generators] in Enfield, Town Supervisor Beth McGee Tuesday bristled at Borgella’s language.
“My issue is with them calling this a ban,” McGee said pointedly.
Instead, the Board inserted the Advisory Committee’s reasoning that so long as permissive compensated waivers from neighboring property owners are provided, the law’s restrictive setbacks do not constitute a “ban.”
Councilperson Becky Sims insisted the Board go further, Sims persuading her colleagues to insert language that “the Town has a responsibility to represent its residents’ rights and well-being, not to meet the project needs for developers.”
The Board’s discussion on Sims’ amendment made it clear that whereas the Board might not consider itself imposing an outright ban on wind power, it felt free to make a wind farm venture so expensive that prospective applicants would simply go elsewhere.
“Maybe some Towns feel they have a responsibility to the developers,” questioned Sims. “But that’s not how this Town works. Residents are Number One.”
Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey echoed Sims, saying that “our job” is to aid residents’ “quiet enjoyment of their property, not making money for stock traders.”
In maintaining their original half-mile property line setbacks for commercial turbines, the Board refused to adopt the Planning Department’s alternative standard that it calculate setbacks from residences, not lot lines, and at distances drastically shorter than the Enfield law proposes. The Board, like its Advisory Committee, did consent to reduce a commercial turbine’s setback from roads, though not by as much as County planners had recommended.
Board members voiced particular resistance Tuesday to scrapping the differential day/night sound limiting standards included within their draft law. Borgella’s recommendations had called for eliminating the quieter-at-night, time-of-day differential and perhaps substituting a distance requirement to mitigate noise.
Board members resisted, McGee insisting that noise has a “life-altering impact.” She added, “The sound is the biggest issue and the hardest one for [turbine owners] to mitigate.”
“It’s night and day, day and night, with no end in sight,” interjected Mehaffey.
One the matter of sound, the Board resolved one question left unanswered by the Advisory Committee. It decided to retain differential lot line noise standards not only for commercial wind generators, but also for their smaller residential counterparts. The Board rejected the County’s recommendation that small-turbine noise standards be eliminated. In what it called a “limited change,” the Board deleted any requirement that a homeowner conduct a “noise study” as part of his application. But a Committee member conceded that such a study had never been part of the original draft anyway.
Conceding to the County’s request on yet another point, the Board revised language to clarify that an Economic Impact Study “is not a prerequisite” for a wind developer submitting an application. But McGee and her colleagues also implied they’d want such a study regardless. County planners had recommended an economic study be undertaken only if an environmental review warranted it.
“This is a bandwagon issue,” stated McGee, implying that people can be led irrationally to accept the benefits of wind power without considering its costs.
“How much fossil fuel does it take to manufacture turbines?” the Supervisor queried, “or to transport them, or to build roads for them?”
By their unanimous four-member votes, Enfield’s Board assured itself of the supermajority margins it needed to override each of Commissioner Borgella’s ten recommendations.
The Town Board will hold its final Public Hearing on the Enfield draft Wind Law, Tuesday, November 19th.
Advisory Committee digs in its heels; rejects most County revisions to proposed Enfield Wind Law
by Robert Lynch, November 10, 2019
The Town-appointed advisory committee that drafted Enfield’s proposed new Wind Law, a committee whose membership includes two of the Town Board’s four Councilpersons, has rejected most recommendations made earlier this month by Tompkins County planners, changes that would have eased proposed new and tougher restrictions on wind turbines both large and small.
The committee also rejected the County’s contention that the 23,000-word Enfield Wind Law, as now drafted, would “effectively ban” large wind turbine generators in the Town.
In its 13-page reply dated November 5th and signed by Town Councilperson and Committee Chair Michael Carpenter, the Enfield Renewable Energy Advisory Committee urges the Town Board to leave unchanged most of the draft law’s key restrictions, including property line setbacks for commercial wind generators, the draft’s proposed noise limitation standards, and a requirement that commercial wind farm applicants submit an Economic Impact Study as part of their application.
Katherine Borgella, Commissioner of Tompkins County’s Department of Planning and Sustainability, in a letter dated November 1st, and provided under the County’s legally-required so-called “Section 239 Review,” advised the Town that certain provisions of the Enfield law, in her Department’s opinion, “may have negative inter-community or county-wide impacts.” Borgella’s letter advanced ten principal recommended revisions, along with additional non-binding “comments” regarding the proposed law’s other provisions. [See story, posted here, November 9th.]
The Enfield Town Board will meet Tuesday (Nov. 12th) to review Borgella’s letter. Under State Law, the Town Board can overrule the Planning Department’s recommendations by a vote of four out of its five members.
The Advisory Committee, despite its general resistance to the County-recommended changes, did concede one point; namely it would relax for commercial turbines the draft law’s proposed setback requirements from roads, but from roads only.
The draft law recommended a half-mile (2,640-foot) setback from both roads and adjacent lot lines. County planners would reduce all setbacks drastically, cutting the distance to just one-and-one-half times a wind tower’s height at both property lines, and also, presumably, along roads. The Advisory Committee now proposes a compromise twice-the-height setback, but only at roadside. The Committee would leave the lot line setback unchanged at the full half-mile.
Defending its position, the Advisory Committee acknowledges that County planners had stated accurately that, absent any waivers by neighbors, the half-mile lot line setback would effectively prohibit commercial wind power in Enfield. Yet, the Committee indicates it views compensation-based waivers as an essential component in the siting process.
Defending the waiver requirement, and disputing Borgella’s conclusion, the Committee states, “This may make the project more expensive but does not constitute a ban.”
Rather, the Committee insists, “This provision will require the developer to engage with non-participating landowners to make sure they are adequately compensated.”
Invoking the extra-cautious “Precautionary Principle,” under which the Advisory Committee scripted the law, the Committee defends its original half-mile lot line setback on several fronts.
First, it says, “setbacks are designed to provide safety zones for landowners (and others) to protect against bodily harm and property damage in the event something goes wrong with a WTG [Wind Turbine Generator].”
Additionally, the Committee argues, ice could be thrown as far as 1,950 feet from a large turbine. Further, states the Committee, “The setbacks serve as a backstop measure for enforcing the noise limitations under the law.” The Committee claims that noise complaints are tough to resolve. Setbacks, on the other hand, are “straightforward.”
The Advisory Committee, also contesting the County’s position, proposes no change in the draft law’s sound limitations for commercial wind generators, standards that would differ from day to night. The Committee insists its recommendations were based on state, federal, and international studies, “as well as data from noise studies done in Enfield, NY and Chautauqua County….”
Standing at odds with the County’s recommendations, the Committee remains adamant that noise measurements be taken at the property line, rather than at an included residence. Furthermore, the Committee insists, lower noise limits stand justified by Enfield’s quieter, rural character.
As for the day-night differential limits, the Committee maintains, “Noise limits should be differentiated between night-time and day-time because the ambient sound levels vary significantly between night and day.”
The Committee, for now, has hedged on whether to also impose noise limits on homeowner turbines. The draft law recommended differing day and night lot line noise limits for small turbines, restrictions identical to those for their larger counterparts. Borgella’s letter sought to strip away small-turbine sound limits. The Committee responds that it will seek more advice before commenting. Yet the Committee cautions:
“With respect to the issue of noise standards, we acknowledge the County’s concern regarding the application of these standards to Small WTG’s but we are concerned about how to protect neighboring residents from the adverse impacts of noise.”
Nonetheless, the Advisory Committee, unlike the County, would retain the draft law’s original twice-the-height lot line setback requirement for these smaller turbines. Noting that small turbines spin faster, the Committee argues, “Ice throw and blade throw distances are, in fact, an even larger concern.”
In all, the Advisory Committee rejected eight of the County Planning Department’s ten recommendations; accepted just one (a recommendation that would actually impose an additional environmental protection affecting streams); and only partially accepted the tenth, the recommendation addressing roadside setbacks (previously discussed.)
The Advisory Committee has refused to remove the draft law’s call for commercial wind applicants to submit an exhaustive Economic Impact Study with their filings. County planners had recommended the requirement’s deletion, insisting economic impact could be addressed, only as needed, as part of an environmental review. The Advisory Committee insists otherwise, stating:
“This provision is not intended to address environmental issues; it is intended to address economic issues…. While consideration of environmental issues are [sic] critical when reviewing a wind energy facility project, it is equally important to weigh any adverse economic impacts on the Town and/or its residents against the economic benefits of the project to the Town and/or its residents as part of any decision to approve a project.”
Two Enfield Councilpersons, Committee Chair Carpenter and member Mimi Mehaffey, sit on the Enfield Renewable Energy Advisory Committee. Both have proven instrumental in drafting the Wind Law’s proposed 60 pages of text and defending its restrictions. Over a series of meetings in recent months, Town Board members, including Supervisor Beth McGee, have supported most of the Committee’s recommendations, having embraced much the Committee’s Wind Law’s language without question.
Following a second Public Hearing November 19th, the Town Board expects to adopt its new Wind Law before a 29-month moratorium on new commercial wind applications expires at month’s-end.
County Planners urge changes in proposed Enfield Wind Law; call its setback requirement a “ban”
by Robert Lynch, November 4, 2019; updated and expanded, November 9, 2019
In what amounts to an assessment that the Town of Enfield has attempted to over-regulate both commercial and residential wind power generation, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability has recommended major revisions in the Town’s proposed revised Wind Law now pending before the Town Board.
In its five-page November 1st letter transmitted to Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee, Katherine Borgella, the Planning Department’s Commissioner, concludes that the Town’s 60-page, 23,000-word draft Wind Law “may have negative inter-community or county-wide impacts.” Borgella states that her Department has identified sections of the document that, in Borgella’s opinion, “are excessively restrictive,” and therefore run “contrary to the County’s adopted energy policies,” namely to increase reliance on “renewable energy sources and technologies.”
Following receipt of the Planning Department’s letter, the Enfield Board set a special meeting for Tuesday (Nov. 12th) to discuss Borgella’s recommendations. The Board has also scheduled a Public Hearing for November 19th to address potential revisions to the Wind Law as well as the results of a separate, mandatory environmental review. This hearing would be the second on the law in as many months. Board members still expect to adopt the Wind Law before an extended moratorium on new commercial wind facilities expires November 30th.
Standing out among the planners’ 10-point recommendations, the Department states that the law’s proposed property setback provisions “would effectively ban large WTG [Wind Turbine Generators] in the Town.” The planners’ assessment agrees with the conclusion of many Wind Law critics, as well as with at least one Town Board member.
As alternatives, the Department recommends changes that would cut the draft law’s proposed setback requirements substantially, revise standards for sound limitations and visual impact, and also eliminate or relax regulations applicable to small wind turbines, those installed by homeowners or farmers.
County planners, however, hold limited power to enforce their 10-point recommendations. Under their so-called “Section 239 Review,” authorized under New York’s General Municipal Law, the Town Board may legally override any or all of the County’s objections by a supermajority of the Board’s membership; in Enfield’s case, by four members out of five.
To date, the draft Wind Law has generated no substantive opposition within the Town Board. Indeed, it’s possible the incumbent Board could adopt the Wind Law—and override the County—by a unanimous vote.
At their meeting November 6th, Board members declined to comment publicly regarding the County’s critical assessment. However, Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee then remarked that she’d reviewed the document and made numerous notations. Days earlier, employing an Internet chatroom, McGee and some of her colleagues informally defended their original draft.
Setback Requirements: Most significant among their findings, County planners recommend a drastic cut in the proposed Wind Law’s mandated minimum distances between a commercial wind turbine and the adjoining residence or property line of a non-consenting neighbor. Observers expect these reductions will prompt the greatest pushback from Town Board members and from wind-critical residents who’ve disproportionately populated Town Board meetings.
Earlier this year, Enfield’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, the volunteer group which wrote much of the new law, proposed that any commercial turbine be separated by a full mile from neighboring parcels and roads. The Town Board subsequently cut that distance in half, reducing the setback to 2,640 feet or five-and one-half times the commercial turbine’s height.
But Borgella’s letter faults the Town for still being too restrictive. County planners recommend a lot line setback of just one-and-one-half times the turbine’s height; twice its height from residences. For a 500-foot turbine, the change would cut the Town’s proposed distance again by more than half, and to only one-fifth of what the Committee had sought.
In the County’s opinion, the Town Board’s half-mile supposed compromise remains, nonetheless, an effective ban. Writes Commissioner Borgella:
“There is no property within the Town of Enfield that would be allowed to be developed for large [Wind Turbine Generators] under the current setback proposal, as it is not possible to site a tower within the proposed setbacks from public, seasonal and limited use roadways in Enfield.”
Borgella adds that absent an owner’s waiver, the 2,640-foot setback would preclude commercial wind development on any property in the Town.
The letter also urges the Town to strip away any setback requirement intended to protect so-called “Unique Natural Areas,” as such areas’ characteristics, Borgella says, “vary greatly,” and may not always require a setback. The planner does recommend the Board insert a provision to protect streams.
Sound Levels: The Town’s proposed Wind Law would impose strict sound limits for both commercial and residential wind turbines, noise to be measured at property lines. County planners recommend the law eliminate the dual standards that would require quieter operation of commercial turbines at night. Planners would also free smaller, residential turbines from noise limits altogether.
For commercial wind generators, the County offers Enfield two alternatives: Either establish a mandatory setback of 1,150 feet from homes, schools, churches and libraries to account for the potential noise; or else employ revised standards, unchanged day from night, measured at residences, not property lines.
Differential day-from-night standards, writes Borgella, are difficult to enforce and pose problems because “wind movement is outside the control of the applicant.” As for sound restrictions upon a homeowner’s turbines, states the planner, “We do not recommend establishing noise standards for Small WTG systems.”
Other Proposed Revisions: The Planning Department’s recommendations would relax other proposed regulations, primarily at the permitting stage. Among the proposed changes:
- Visual impact mitigation: Visual studies, applicable to all commercial wind applicants under the Town’s draft, would be limited under the County’s recommendation to instances in which “shadow flicker will occur for more than 30 hours per year on any one nearby residence or facility….”
- Economic Impact Studies: The County would delete the Town’s proposed requirement that any commercial wind applicant underwrite a “thorough, conservative” Town-commissioned study of potential adverse economic impact, studying risks that would include, according to the draft, “possible reduced hunting, reduced agricultural yields due to bat takings, property devaluations, cost to the community due to adverse health effects, [and] higher cost of electricity….” Borgella responds that such an exhaustive economic review should only be undertaken if the Town’s subsequent environmental review deems it necessary.
- Environmental Monitoring Plan: The Town’s draft law would mandate a commercial wind operator fund “post-construction field studies” into turbine-related bird and bat fatalities, nesting failures and “territory abandonment,” studies to circle a full two miles from each turbine. Borgella responds that bird and bat studies should only be performed in accordance with State DEC Guidelines and over a revised—presumed smaller—radius recommended by the DEC.
- Small Turbine Setbacks: ARTICLE VIII of the proposed Wind Law would require a home-based residential turbine stand no closer than twice its distance from the owner’s property line. The County would shorten that distance to the turbine’s height plus ten feet.
In addition to the Planning Department’s ten-point recommendations, each of which would need to be overridden by the votes of four out of five Town Board members, planners offered 18 additional “comments” about the proposed law, none of which would require a supermajority vote to override.
Among those “comments” are that the Town should not define a “hunting camp” as a residence; that County emergency procedures do not accommodate the sort of wind farm “Fire Protection Plan” the draft law envisions; and that the notification of property owners within a two-mile radius of a proposed turbine would be “excessive.”
As to that last point, writes Commissioner Borgella, “It would mean notifying owners of property equivalent to over one-third the size of the entire town.” The Planning Commissioner suggests an alternative 600-foot notification radius.
Republicans sweep regional State Judicial races; but Tompkins voters favored Democrats
by Robert Lynch, November 8, 2019
Tompkins County may be deep political blue. But Election Night totals revealed that the larger region from which our State judges are picked remains ruby-red.
In Tuesday’s races for three seats on the New York State Supreme Court in this, the Sixth Judicial District, Republican nominees Mark Masler, Chris Baker and Oliver Blaise III each defeated their Democratic opponents, Peter Charnetsky and Claudette Newman.
State Supreme Court judges serve ten-year terms. The 10-county Sixth Judicial District stretches from Delaware County on the east to Schuyler County on the west.
While the three Republicans won District-wide, Tompkins County voters preferred Democrats Newman and Charnetsky by landslide margins.
Unofficial District-wide totals released by the New York State Board of Elections, report that Republican judicial nominee Masler received the most votes, 78,813; Baker came in second with 72,680; and Blaise third with 67,166. Each candidate will be elevated to Supreme Court.
Democrat Newman, meanwhile, secured 53,133 votes; and Charnetsky 51,743.
The Election Night totals, which presumably also include early voting, do not reflect the votes from Absentee Ballots, yet to be counted.
Justice-elect Mark Masler hails from Cortland, Christopher Baker from Elmira, and Blaise from Binghamton. Each was nominated by Republican Party leaders in the Sixth District. Claudette Newman of Gilbertsville and Peter Charnetsky of Vestal were nominated at a Judicial Nominating Convention held in Binghamton during August (a conclave in which this writer served as a voting Alternate Delegate.)
Tuesday’s judicial results differed significantly from those of 2018 in which the Democratic nominee, Elizabeth Burns of Cortland, almost defeated the Republican candidate, Joe McBride.
However, 2018 was a much different election year. Gubernatorial and Congressional races swelled voter participant ranks in 2018. What’s more, overall Tompkins County voter turnout this year was depressed by the general lack of competitive local races in both the City and Town of Ithaca.
Democrats in Tompkins County, however, achieved one judicial victory. Voters elected Democrat Scott Miller to fill the newly-created third position of Tompkins County Court Judge. Miller, nominated by party leaders, ran unopposed.
Amid Election Day Snags, Redmond, Lynch take Enfield Council posts; Woods wins for Town Clerk
by Robert Lynch, November 7, 2019
Maybe in Enfield, there’s just too much of a Good Thing; namely too much Democracy.
As most have likely learned by the date of this story’s posting, Enfield voters Tuesday, November 5th, elected Stephanie Redmond and Robert Lynch (this writer) as their Town’s newest Councilpersons.
Voters also chose Ellen Woods over Mary Cornell to succeed the retiring Enfield Town Clerk, Alice Linton.
The election of Redmond, Lynch, Woods and two unopposed office-seekers came amid a shortage of machine ballots, the result of an unexpectedly large turnout Election Day by Enfield’s voters.
The late-afternoon and evening ballot shortages, which impacted each of Enfield’s election districts differently, required some voters to be turned away at the polls, and others to fill out paper Affidavit Ballots. As of this story’s filing, the Tompkins County Board of Elections had yet to add the Affidavit Ballot vote totals to those released Tuesday night. Those totals reflected the sum of same-day machine counts plus ballots cast during nine days of early voting.
Stephen DeWitt, Tompkins County’s Democratic Elections Commissioner, indicated Wednesday that his Board’s staff would count the Affidavit Ballots submitted at the Enfield polling site within a few days and not wait until the much-later date when Absentee Ballots, most submitted by mail, must be counted. The Absentee Ballots will not be counted until around November 19th.
As it stands, the Affidavit or Absentee Ballots will not change Tuesday’s election results. In all of Enfield’s races, winning candidates won by significant margins.
The Town Board races: In the three-way race for two seats as Enfield Councilperson, Democratic nominees Stephanie Redmond and Robert Lynch secured the most votes, defeating third-place finisher Darren McGee.
Based on the Election Night totals, yet to reflect the Affidavit or Absentee voting, Redmond polled highest with 512 votes, with Lynch close behind at 503. Darren McGee garnered 196 votes.
As best understood in a race for two seats, Redmond won the support of 68 per cent of the 748 persons voting; Lynch 67 per cent. McGee was favored by 26 per cent.
Redmond and McGee will join the Town Board in January to fill the seats of retiring Councilpersons Michael Carpenter and Becky Sims.
Throughout the campaign, candidates Stephanie Redmond and Darren McGee ran as a team. They’d cross-endorsed each other. Incumbent Supervisor Beth McGee had endorsed them both, and they’d campaigned with the Supervisor under the Enfield Community Values third-party banner. Darren McGee and Supervisor Beth McGee, who won for re-election unopposed, are husband and wife.
Town Clerk: In the race for Town Clerk, Ellen Woods, the Democratic nominee, beat third-party candidate Mary Cornell 424 votes (63.6%) to Cornell’s 241 votes (36.1%). Woods and Cornell had been close finishers in the June Democratic Primary, their race decided then only by Absentee ballots. Tuesday’s results accorded Woods a more decisive win.
For Supervisor, incumbent Beth McGee, hers the only name listed on the ballot, won with 578 (77%) of the 748 ballots cast. However, 150 (20%) of Enfield’s voters left the Supervisor’s line blank. 20 wrote-in someone else’s name.
Even more significantly, in the race for Highway Superintendent, Republican incumbent Barry “Buddy” Rollins earned the support of only 502 (67%) of those voting. 243 voters (32%) left the Highway Superintendent’s line un-inked.
Judging from this year’s participation, Enfield’s voters have yet to warm to early voting. Only 46 of Enfield’s residents, six per cent of those participating, early-voted.
Why no ballots: Why did the Enfield election site run out of ballots election night? Anecdotal evidence from poll workers suggested the Board of Elections had based expected demand on the voter participation of two years ago, a year when all Enfield candidates ran unopposed. Tuesday’s ballot shortage was allegedly prolonged because a delivery person, unfamiliar with the area, had become lost on route to the polling site.
According to those in charge, elections staff began to realize the impending ballot shortage at about 4:30 PM. District #3 (southern Enfield) was the first to run out of ballots; then District #1 (central Enfield); and finally District #2 (northern Enfield). And even after ballots were replenished, certain districts were again running out near the election’s close. As candidates and Party leaders arrived to observe the post-closing machine printouts, voters were seen filling out Affidavit Ballots in the polling site’s vestibule.
Elections staff cannot say how many potential voters were turned away and never returned. Unofficially, however, those staffing the Enfield site said that in their opinion, many, if not most of those initially turned away later returned.
Under a newly-adopted State law, affecting for the first time this election, no Absentee Ballots can be opened and counted until after the last day that those ballots may be received at Elections offices, in this case, November 12th.
Commissioner DeWitt said November 19th, two weeks after the election, is the most likely date Tompkins County’s Absentee Ballots will be opened and counted.
2020 Enfield Budget breezes through Public Hearing
by Robert Lynch, November 7, 2019
When it comes to budget hearings, perhaps it can best be said: “As goes Tompkins County, so goes the Town of Enfield.”
On October 29th, the Tompkins County Legislature invited public comment on its proposed nearly $192 Million 2020 County Budget. The Public Hearing was gaveled to order. Legislators held the Hearing open for nearly a quarter-hour to see if anyone chose to speak. Lawmakers chatted to waste time. Despite the budget’s hefty bottom-line, no one from the public rose to speak. The only resident comment addressed an unrelated topic. The hearing was gaveled to a close. End of story.
Wednesday night (November 6th), Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee similarly gaveled to order her Town’s 2020 Budget Hearing. Compared to its municipal big brother, Enfield’s Preliminary Budget is tiny; appropriations totaling just under $2.15 Million, little more than one per cent of what the County plans to spend.
So perhaps it’s of little surprise that if the County Budget received no comment, neither did Enfield’s.
The Enfield budget, which would increase the tax levy by just under four per cent, breezed through its hearing—like its County governmental counterpart—with no direct comment. After perhaps five minutes’ time, Supervisor McGee gaveled the hearing to a close.
Councilperson-Elect Robert Lynch (this writer) did raise one question. But his query was strictly procedural. It concerned the Town’s newly-proposed, first-ever Capital Plan.
The Capital Plan, described by its Board-authors as taking a “conservative approach” to finances and envisioning no new borrowing, would guide the Board’s budgeting for large-ticket (over $40,000) capital purchases during the next decade. The Plan, in part, would seek to increase the capital reserve account over that period to fund highway equipment purchases.
Lynch questioned whether the Capital Plan, like its companion proposed Fund Balance Policy, would be subject to annual review by the Town Board. He questioned how accurately a Board can predict the cost of heavy equipment as far as ten years out, suggesting future Boards might find reserve set-asides too high or too low.
Though the Plan’s text does not contain an annual review provision, Supervisor McGee answered that “It’s our intent to review the Capital Plan annually.”
With that, the Budget Hearing ended.
After the Hearing’s close, Board members adjusted the budget slightly, but indicated that the changes would keep the tax levy increase virtually unchanged. Councilperson Becky Sims even predicted the percentage increase might drop a bit.
The 2020 Enfield Preliminary Budget, the Fund Balance Policy and the Capital Plan are set for Town Board adoption November 13th.
Public Comments Cautious, Mixed on Enfield Sheriff’s Station Plan
by Robert Lynch, November 6, 2019
“We’re not going to get our hooks into Enfield,” Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne assured those attending an Enfield Town Board public discussion Wednesday (Nov. 6th) into the Town’s proposal to establish a Sheriff’s satellite substation at the Old Enfield Highway Barn.
The Sheriff’s reaction followed Aiken Road resident Michael Miles’ admonition that if Osborne’s deputies come to Enfield, officers should “understand the demographics out here.”
Miles’ words echoed those of Councilperson Becky Sims, who’d warned her Board colleagues when the Sheriff’s Station was first proposed in September that “not everybody sees law enforcement as friendly.”
Miles was among only a few who addressed the Board in person Wednesday on the substation issue. But five more residents sent written comments to the Town, among them Brianna Binkerd-Dale, who with her partner, Greg English, wrote the Board that they are “strongly against the idea,” and hope the Board rethinks the proposal and “considers the full range of consequences.”
In late-September Supervisor Beth McGee and her husband, Darren, then a candidate for Enfield Town Councilperson, first proposed that the Sheriff open a small satellite facility in Enfield. Under the McGees’ plan, deputies would use a portion of the unused Old Highway Barn, park a patrol car in one of the building’s five bays, and occupy a small on-site office. Supervisor McGee estimated the necessary upgrades, to be borne by the Town, would cost only $6,000. Sheriff Osborne enthusiastically backed the idea.
Attending the Board’s special meeting Wednesday, Osborne assured his audience that his stationing deputies in Enfield would not mean his Department would target its town’s citizens for special enforcement.
Rather, Osborne sympathized when resident Miles cautioned that many in Enfield fall victim to the “cycle of poverty and incarceration.” Miles urged that Enfield’s assigned officers be trained in “de-escalation techniques.”
Osborne agreed, saying he will choose his deputies carefully.
“We don’t want to put just any deputy in Enfield,” he said.
But in their written comments, Binkerd-Dale and English were not convinced.
“The addition of a satellite Sheriff’s station to Enfield feels like dumping an increased police presence into a working class town with the assumption that residents should be grateful to have their taxes paying for increased surveillance that they neither need nor asked for,” the two wrote.
Others who wrote the Town were more supportive.
“I vote a resounding YES,” exclaimed Laurence Hammer of Enfield Main Road.
“I am 100 per cent in favor,” seconded Sharon Sciarra.
In all, four written emails were supportive; only Binkerd-Dale and English’s critical. Supervisor McGee advised her Board that others had offered support via Facebook.
Councilperson Virginia Bryant dismissed the fear that the mere presence of officers would impose increased surveillance of her town’s residents.
“There’ll be no gendarmes breathing down our neck,” Bryant said.
Councilperson-Elect Robert Lynch (this writer) questioned the Board on whether it should ask County Government to share the cost of roof repairs at the Old Highway Barn, amid reports last month that portions of the more than 50-year old building leak.
Supervisor McGee dismissed Lynch’s suggestion, maintaining that the leaks are few and not in the area where the deputies would be quartered.
“I don’t feel it’s the County’s role to fix a roof that’s been left to deteriorate that long,” McGee said. “I wouldn’t want something like that to get in the way.”
Enfield lawmakers will likely formalize their substation invitation to the County November 13th. Sheriff Osborne does not believe the County Legislature need approve the action.
Former T.C. Legislator Jim Dennis Endorses Bob Lynch for Enfield Town Board
News Release from the Friends of Robert Lynch:
(Enfield, NY; Nov. 1, 2019): Former Tompkins County Legislator James P. Dennis, who represented northern Enfield in county government for a dozen years, today endorsed Robert Lynch as a candidate for the Enfield Town Board.
“Bob has the ability to do this job, and Enfield will get an honest, ethical public servant if he is chosen,” the former three-term legislator stated.
Dennis, of Trumansburg, served as the County Legislature’s District 15 representative from 2006 through 2017. In that role, Dennis represented nearly half of Enfield’s residents, those living north of Mecklenburg Road (NY Route 79). District 15 also includes the Trumansburg Village and the Town of Ulysses. The district is currently represented by Dennis’ successor, Anne Koreman.
Dennis stated that he supports Lynch based, in part, on his familiarity with local government and the issues affecting Enfield:
“Bob Lynch has been a member of the media community in Tompkins County for many years. While not ever having held an elective office, Bob has without a doubt, in his years as a reporter, spent more time at more local government meetings than anyone on the Enfield Board presently. Bob also knows issues as well as anyone. I’m certain he will then apply his knowledge and personality to the issues that will change citizens’ lives for the better.”
Candidate Lynch responded, “I am gratified that Jim Dennis, a public servant I have known for many decades, has chosen to endorse me for Town Councilperson. As a teacher and legislator, Jim has always earned my respect. I view his endorsement today as a sign that my belief in Old-Fashioned Representative Democracy has been recognized and that, if elected, I’d help lead Enfield government in the right direction.”
Prior to moving to Trumansburg, Dennis served for more than a decade in local government, as a member of Ithaca Common Council, which included two years’ service as acting Ithaca mayor.
It was during Dennis’ tenure on Common Council that he first met Bob Lynch, then a broadcast reporter for Radio Station WTKO.
In his endorsement, Dennis also criticized incumbent Enfield Democratic Supervisor Beth McGee, who’s seeking re-election this November unopposed, for endorsing her own husband, Darren, in the Councilperson’s race even though Darren lost to Lynch and Stephanie Redmond in the June Democratic primary for nomination to the Town Board’s two open seats.
“As a 12 year member of the Tompkins County Legislature representing one-half of the Town of Enfield, I find it bordering on unethical for the Supervisor to endorse her husband for the seat that Enfield Democrats had earlier rejected him for,” Dennis stated.
The former Representative added that rather than just “quietly endorse” her husband, Supervisor McGee has, in his words, “embarked on a campaign to discredit Lynch.”
Robert Lynch is among three candidates, all registered Democrats, seeking two open seats on the Enfield Town Board in the November 5th General Election. Lynch secured the Democratic Party’s nomination in the June Primary, earning more votes than any other competing candidate.
[Lynch is the author of this website.]