VILLENOVA — Villenova’s much anticipated vote on the proposed Ball Hill wind project amendments may have been short, but it was not exactly sweet. On Wednesday night, the Villenova Town Board conducted its regularly scheduled public meeting, but instead of meeting inside, the board conducted the first order of business — the amendment vote — right out front, due to the large crowd in attendance.
Town Supervisor Richard Ardillo, Jr. called the meeting to order shortly after 7 p.m. He reminded the large crowd that this was a town board meeting, not a public hearing, and that the public would not be called on to participate. He then turned the meeting over to Chuck Malcolm, an attorney from the law firm that is representing the town in the wind park project.
Malcolm reminded the crowd that the vote was not on the project itself, which has already been approved, but on the proposed amendments to the original project: “Before the town is the modification to that project and the impacts of the difference in height, the difference in setbacks, the energy overlay zone, as well as the project changes that were proposed by the applicant and represented by the applicant as environmental benefits, such as removing a substation and locating some lines underground, as well as minimizing impacts to local wetlands. That’s what the board is reviewing, voting on, and considering tonight.”
Ardillo asked the board for a motion to approve the amendments, to be followed by a roll call vote. Councilman Keith Butcher made the motion, which was seconded by Councilman Nathan Palmer. Councilwoman Sarah LoMonto, who was present, recused herself from the vote, as she has a lease agreement with wind company RES. The roll call vote proceeded in the following order: Ardillo voted yes, Palmer voted yes and Butcher voted yes. There was a pause before newly appointed board member Yvonne Park was asked for her vote. “Yes,” was also her response, as one member of the crowd shouted, “It figures!”
“The motion has passed,” Ardillo declared, and cheering, clapping and booing erupted from the crowd. Even though the voting portion of the meeting took less than 10 minutes, the crowd outside lingered for much longer, and the board decided to continue the rest of the meeting inside.
RES Project Manager Mark Lyons expressed his pleasure with the board’s decision. “I’m very happy with the result,” he said. “The board has worked very hard in their decision. They’ve asked us a lot of questions and done their homework. There’s a good deal of work ahead of us, but we’re one step closer to bringing the project into reality…I believe it will be the best designed project in the state of New York.”
Mike Gajewski of Villenova, who is currently discussing a lease agreement with RES, was very enthusiastic about the board’s decision. “This town is starving for finances,” he explained. “Wind industry is coming — it’s going to happen. If you let it pass us by, shame on you.”
Mary Ellen Dayton of Villenova, who was one of many wearing a green “Say Yes! Ball Hill Wind” shirt, said, “I’m very glad it passed. This is a good thing for the town.”
Arkwright Town Councilman Larry Ball attended the meeting in support of the proposed amendments, and was pleased with the board’s decision. “Here in western New York, we are starving for energy. The more we can produce, the better chances we have to attract more industry,” he predicted.
However, there were several crowd members who were outraged at not only the board’s vote, but the presence of certain crowd members. Multiple individuals pointed to the gathering of RES employees in blue shirts, who, according to one resident, arrived an hour early to prevent people in opposition from standing near the town board. “There’s at least 10 RES vehicles parked over there with out-of-state plates,” Karen Engstrom pointed out.
John Robinson of Forestville expressed his concern about the proximity of the turbines to his property. “I have 50 acres and I’m going to have two turbines within 1,800 feet of my home. They’re too big, too close.” He voiced his fears about potential infrasound impact on his and his wife’s health, as well as the nearby bat cave that he fears will be impacted.
Joni Riggle of the town of Charlotte worried that the town was not fully aware of what they were voting on. In particular, she mentioned the host agreement, which requires the town to purchase a meter to run random sound tests on the turbines. However, she said the town must let the wind company know in advance of such testing and added, “Not only can the wind company deny the town’s choice (of testing company), but they can manipulate the blades from Texas, and they offered no way to prove to the town that they would not manipulate the blades during testing.”
The next decision regarding the Ball Hill wind project lies with the town board of Hanover, who must also have a supermajority board approval to pass the amendments to their six proposed turbines. In the words of one crowd member, “This isn’t over.”