At the end of September, about four hours before Black Oak Wind Farm secured its financing, Enfield landowner Rich Teeter backed out of the contract that would have put a turbine and electrical substation on his land.
“On Sept. 29, I would have said, ‘Yeah, we’re about to start construction in about three days," Black Oak Wind Farm Project Manager Marguerite Wells said.
A contractor was lined up, all permits were complete and plans had been finalized, Wells added. "We’re ready to go, and then (Teeter) backed out, and that was completely unforeseeable because the guy has been our biggest proponent for nine years.”
Teeter said he couldn't comment on why he backed out. "We're not a part of it anymore, and that's pretty much all that I can say about it," he said. "There's litigation on what's going on between us so I can't really say anything about it."
Fast-forward to January: Black Oak is in the process of finding a new site for the turbine that was planned for Teeter's land as well as seeking new approvals for environmental impacts and new financing to cover construction costs.
But some residents are not happy the project is set to continue. Signs of opposition stand in front of about a dozen homes along Black Oak Road, and an adjacent street.
Signs begin with the same message: “No windmills close to our homes!” The remaining lines vary, ranging from “If they fall our lives are in danger!” and, “Is Enfield Board picking money over our safety?” Other signs read, “We were lied too! [sic] about health affects [sic],” and “Enfield laws are not in compliance with GE standards.”
Connecticut Hill Road resident Jude Lemke is a leading voice calling the proposed Black Oak Wind Farm is unsafe.
Lemke said three turbines will be located near her home on Connecticut Hill Road.
Lemke and her husband purchased the home this summer. They learned about Black Oak's plans to build turbines near their home about two weeks after moving in.
Seven, 483-foot-tall, 2.3-megawatt turbines will comprise the wind farm, according to Peter Bardaglio, president of Black Oak Wind Farm's board of directors.
Lemke’s concerns center on the belief that the turbines will be too close to homes. The town’s wind energy facilities law is inadequate to protect residents, she added.
She has also raised concern about noise, flicker and turbine blades throwing ice or disintegrating and throwing turbine blades, turbine collapse and turbines catching on fire.
Flicker occurs when turbine blades pass in front of the sun. The blades cast moving shadows onto the ground and nearby structures.
“What we want are setbacks that are safe for the Town of Enfield, and if that kills the project I can’t do anything about that,” Lemke said.
Lemke said she gathered 180 petition signatures from Enfield residents who are concerned that the project’s setbacks are too short.
Wells, meanwhile, says Lemke and her neighbor, Theresa Guler, are spreading misinformation about the wind farm.
“Between the two of them, they have worked up a great deal of fear and misinformation that I am now battling,” Wells said.
The disagreement was evident at a Dec. 17 public meeting about the Black Oak project.
About 150 people filled the Enfield Elementary School gymnasium. People yelled comments out of turn and others raised their voices into a microphone.
The meeting was aimed at allowing community members to voice their concerns about the project, according to Enfield Town Supervisor Ann Rider.
Community Dispute Resolution Center mediator Jeff Shepardson moderated the discussion, while a Tompkins County Sheriff's Office deputy stood at the back of the room. Enfield Town Board members and representatives from Black Oak Wind Farm and industry experts also attended.
Attendees voiced a range of opinions, some favoring and others criticizing the planned wind farm.
As the meeting let out, Guler reported that Black Oak Board of Managers Secretary Alexia Hain had harassed her by grabbing her arm.
A subsequent charge against Hain was settled in Enfield Town Court this past Monday night. Hain pleaded not guilty to the second-degree harassment charges.
Hain was granted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, according to Michael Perehinec, Hain's attorney. “Basically what it means is, the case will be dismissed in six months if there are no further problems,” Perehinec said during an interview outside the court.
Hain agreed to pay restitution for doctors’ visits that Guler made after the incident, and the court ordered Hain to stay away from Guler for six months.
On Tuesday, Guler declined to comment on Black Oak.
“I can’t speak about any of it because of everything with the courts,” she said.
Setback, noise claims disputed
Lemke said she believes the wind farm doesn’t meet General Electric standards for setbacks from residences and property lines. Black Oak has contracted GE to build its turbines.
GE setbacks say the 483-foot-tall turbines should be about 990 feet from buildings and 192 feet from property lines of non-participating lands.
“We comply with both of these distances for all turbines,” Wells said in an email.
The closest that Black Oak has sited any turbine from a building or property line is exactly the distance that GE suggests, Wells added.
However, Enfield’s Wind Energy Facilities law would allow Black Oak to site its turbines as close as 532 feet from buildings.
Though Wells said Black Oak won’t site turbines closer than 990 feet from properties, GE guidelines, Lemke said she felt the town shouldn’t allow turbines closer than 1,500 feet from buildings.
Town officials should “go back and ask whether or not we should revise the (Wind Energy Facilities law) … to setbacks that are safer for the residents in the area,” she said.
Turbines would be allowed to create up to 60 decibels of sound, measured at the nearest offsite residence, according to the town's law.
Lemke pointed to World Health Organization recommendations, which say that people exposed to 30 to 40 decibels, annually on average, of nighttime noise pollution report modest effects on sleep. People who are exposed to an 40 to 55 decibels, annually on average, of nighttime noise pollution can suffer adverse health effects. Many people have to adapt their lives to cope with the noise of 40 to 55 decibels at night, according to WHO.
Town law, which allows 60 decibels of sound, measured at the nearest offsite residence, is insufficient, Lemke contends.
The project's final environmental impact statement estimates wind farm noise will be 46 decibels maximum, measured at the nearest offsite residence, Wells said. The annual average of nighttime sound at non-participating residences will not exceed 38 dBA, Tech Environmental acoustic engineer Peter Guldberg said in an email.
Haley & Aldrich acoustic engineer Ryan Callahan added that Black Oak has taken precautions to keep turbine noise low.
“Black Oak chose to use low-noise blades for the turbines, which are the best available technology,” he said at the town’s Dec. 17 meeting.
Callahan added that low-frequency sounds from the turbines are about 100 times to 1,000 times lower than a car driving, waves on a beach or wind through the trees.
“With the modern wind turbine, low-frequency sounds have essentially been all but eliminated,” he said.
Citizen advisory group forming
Enfield Town Supervisor Ann Rider said the town is forming a citizens advisory committee focused on Black Oak.
The eight-member committee with have two liaisons from the town, three people who disagree with the wind farm and three who support Black Oak.
Rider said she hopes the group serve two purposes. First, it could allow mediation for residents concerns about the wind farm, and secondly the group would advise the town on how it could improve the Wind Energy Facilities law.
“There are some residents close to the wind farm who (have) expressed concerns,” Rider said. “These are very much the same concerns that were expressed eight years ago, prior to the passing of our local law regarding industrial-sized wind farms.”
Besides looking for a new site for the turbine and substation that would have been on Teeter's land, Black Oak is also revising its environmental impact study for visual flicker, sound impacts and wetland impacts.
“It’s only because we’re trying to respect this landowner’s wishes and not just force the equipment on his property, which we have the legal right to do,” Wells added.
Black Oak must amend its state environmental quality review, or SEQR, and conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement, Wells said. There will be a public comment period and public hearing on the changes, she added.
The SEQR process could be done in April and financial close could come about two months after that, which would allow Black Oak to order its turbines, Wells said.
"We might be digging holes in fall and putting turbines in up over the winter, or in the spring,” she said.
Rider added that she still supports the wind farm.
“Certainly I don’t discount that there will be some downsides if the wind farm goes forward, but I do not think that the negatives in anyway come close to the benefits of this, and not only for the environment, but certainly this will increase the assessment in the town and raise more taxes,” Rider said.