Mary Ellen Jones discusses her experience with wind developer First Wind
Mary Ellen Jones, formerly of Cohocton, NY, discusses her experience with wind developer First Wind. Ms. Jones lived within the viewshed of First Wind's 125 megawatt wind energy facility referred to as Cohocton Wind. When she found the turbine noise exceeded the permitted levels, she entered into negotiations to sell her home to First Wind. This is her story.
I have finally closed on the sale of my house to First Wind. I received $116,000, which was the appraised value of the house, plus $8,000 for documented moving expenses, and $1,500 toward legal fees which came to around $3,500. No gag order or easement was signed. I did much of the legal work, reading and making copies of the Town Windmill Law for different attorneys.
I had a difficult time finding an attorney who would accept the case. The first attorney I hired left the case after I refused to follow his advise to sign a perpetual easement prior to closing. Fortunately, I found a semi-retired litigation attorney, who was also a family friend with a social consciousness. Without him the sale would not have gone through.
After much research, I had found in the Town Windmill Law, that if the sound measured over 45 dBA, more testing under specific monitored conditions was required, and specific mitigations procedures were required on the part of First Wind.
The first step was to obtain copies of the required periodic sound testing done by the Town and First Wind. This took a Freedom of Information request and several visits to the Town Offices where everyone was friendly and appeared cooperative, although obtaining anything took a great deal of time. The sound studies showed sound at my house and at several other areas tested, to be well over 45 dBA. I wrote several letters to the Town of Cohocton over a period of 3 years and filed complaints according to the complaint procedure detailed in the Town Law. I visited the Town Offices regularly and kept copies of repeated letters to the Town requesting additional site specific sound testing as detailed in the law, as well as the mitigation procedures. At one point, I received a phone call from First Wind offering me $4,500 to sign a perpetual easement which would allow such things as Ice throw, house vibrations, damages, noise, and physical health problems related to the windmills with no legal rights at any time in the future even if the house was sold or passed on by inheritance. The Town advised me that they were not acting on my complaints because they had been advised that First Wind had put in an offer to buy my house. Several days after I had advised the Town that I had received no offer to buy the house, First Wind advised me to get an attorney, whom they would pay, because they were going to make an offer to buy the house. I hired an attorney to represent me, assuring him that I would pay him $500 if the sale did not go through and he did not receive payment from First Wind. Then there was a long period during which no offer was received, although First Wind promised repeatedly that an offer would be made soon. They paid for 4 appraisals of the property as I had argued that the first appraisal was extremely low. The subsequent appraisals were substantially higher. Eventually, my attorney came to an agreement with First Wind which was about the same as the final settlement, but after I agreed to the contract verbally, First Wind added that I would need to sign the easement described above, prior to the closing. I was willing to sign the easement at the time of the closing but not before. My attorney pressured me to sign the easement prior to closing, I sought the advise of 2 other attorneys who strongly advised me not to sign an easement prior to the closing, and my communication with my attorney ended with my payment to him of $500. He would have received $3,500 from First Wind had the negotiations gone through.
I continued to file my complaints with the Town and visit the Town Offices regularly. The Town Law was poorly written and gave First Wind several ways to avoid serious litigation, but the further testing and mitigation procedures were clear. After contacting several attorneys who would not take the case, I found another attorney. He followed up with the Town. Finally another sound test was done at my home. This was not done according to Town Windmill Law, under my supervision and under circumstances similar to the highest prior sound readings. It was done by the Town and First Wind at a time and place decided upon by them, but the reading registered 49.9 dBA at my residence. Phone conversation with an independent sound consultant, revealed that there was a 1 point margin of error with these tests. My new attorney continued to communicate with First Wind concerning this and the other issues I had regarding the windmills. The house vibrated in strong wind, screens had blown off, and I had a flicker effect problem which was longer that the 20 hours the Windmill Law allowed. I made regular visits to the Town Zoning Officer. After several requests that the Town advise First Wind that they were in violation of the Town Law, the Zoning Officer agreed to write a letter to First Wind. However, this letter was not written until months after the Zoning Officer agreed to write it. During those months, I continued regular complaints and visits to the Town Offices.
After a very well written letter was sent to First Wind by the Zoning Officer, negotiations began between my attorney and First Wind. After much negotiation, the purchase offer was signed with 2 contingencies. One was referred to as an "environmental inspection" but was actually a building inspection, the other contingency was not a mortgage approval, but a "lender approval." Based on the building inspection report, First Wind asked that the back yard be excavated and a drainage system be put in, a fire wall be put in between the garage and the house, and a new roof put on, as well as several smaller details. Fortunately I had kept pictures and receipts for the drainage system I had put in the back of the house, architectural drawings of the firewall between the house and the garage, and receipts for the roof indicating the 20 year guarantee, another walk through was done and that hurdle was passed. Next, First Wind indicated that they had received the approval of 2 lenders but not the 4 they wanted. My attorney advised First Wind that the contingency was for one lender not 4, and the settlement went through. Meanwhile I had moved because First Wind wanted final receipts for the move prior to closing. So it was all pretty stressful.
So there it is, the whole story. Now I'm wondering how my situation could be helpful to others in dealing with windmill issues. I am not against wind energy, but I am against corporate greed.