As small towns like Parishville and Hopkinton have struggled in creating wind turbine laws, many residents wonder if elected officials are capable of handling such a large-scale project and making a decision that is best for everyone.
There are concerns over ethics, local leaders not listening to their constituents and an overall feeling that the complexities tied to the proposed 40-turbine North Ridge Wind Farm may be too much for town officials to handle. Other residents are content with how officials have handled the issue thus far and some have mixed emotions.
Luke Dailey, a wind farm opponent from Parishville, feels the wind project is “too big of a job for local towns” to deal with.
Frank Potenzano, who has signed a lease to locate a turbine on his land in Hopkinton, feels officials went into discussions with their minds already made up – but praised the wind advisory board in Hopkinton for being unbiased.
Parishville resident Gary Snell Sr. points to surveys and petitions that seem to imply residents do not want a wind farm in their communities. “Listen to the constituents – not your own personal choice – the code for public officials is to go with the majority of the population.”
“I don't feel they have been handling it well,” said Hopkinton resident Richard ‘Dick’ Eakins of both town governments. He has signed a lease to locate a turbine on his land.
Due to the local political climate, many are afraid to speak out, Hopkinton resident Janice Pease said. “This has pushed me to realize I have to be part of the process, be more involved in local politics. I think for too long the town has been quiet, decisions have been made by too few because so many of us have busy lives.”
Town Council Candidates
The wind controversy has prompted Pease and fellow Hopkinton resident Kelly Pullano to run for town council seats this fall. “I believe our town needs new representation, increased transparency, and more public involvement,” said Pease.
Town councilmen Greg Crump and Gilbert Sochia are up for reelection this year.
“I do see ethical problems on the board. One councilman could not vote due to the ethics law, so the town board voted in a new ethics law so that the councilman could vote,” Pullano said.
Crump has twice abstained from voting and discussing wind tower issues following ethics law complaints, but is now eligible to participate.
“Town board members (in Hopkinton) include the fire chief, assistant fire chief, a (family member of a) leaseholder and one apparently neutral councilwoman,” Pullano said. “Although the fire department has not had any offers of money from Avangrid, it is common knowledge that the fire department would stand to gain financially if the windmills come.”
“With a project like this it is irresponsible and unethical to not have made contact with every individual household, camp, and seasonal dwelling,” said Pease.
(Dis)satisfaction with Officials
Wood has remained neutral at meetings, Potenzano believes, adding that “she hasn't taken a stand.” But he is much more critical of the Parishville Town Board, saying that council members there are “trying to change law to fit their own interest.”
“We are distressed as a town – to write a restrictive law is detrimental to the town,” said Potenzano felt.
But Snell praised the Parishville Town Board for taking all information into account and making an informed decision about its wind laws.
“That’s not happening in Hopkinton,” Snell Sr. said. “The (Hopkinton) town board did not take the advice from the advisory board – it is unfortunate.”
“Town officials need to protect the well-being of their residents,” said Parishville resident Lori Witherall. “The bottom line is that all they (Avangrid) cares about is money.”
Witherall claims a windy area isn’t even a priority when companies choose a wind farm location. “They pick some place with a poor economy,” she said. “They know towns don’t have the legal resources to fight against it.”
When asked how town council members are expected to make decisions for the town, Wood said, “I would hope they are doing what is best for the town (not voting purely on personal opinion).
“Sometimes what we feel is best for the town people may not agree with — no matter what you do there will be people upset,” Wood said.
Pullano offered praise for Wood stating, “Our town supervisor has been involved getting as much information as she can.”
But Hopkinton resident Gail Kelly has questions about how the issues have been handled by local government officials. “In hindsight it could have been handled different.”
“It’s sad that one or two board members in Hopkinton can block what the advisory board community members have worked so hard for,” Witherall said.