In an historic vote on March 13, 2007, after months of controversy and research, the Bovina Town Board banned wind turbines from this scenic Catskill town. Bovina is the first town in the Catskills to take a clear position against industrial wind development. The Bovina vote follows a twelve-month moratorium during which residents made their views known to town officials through open meetings sponsored by the board, hundreds of letters, a town survey, a petition, and a poll sponsored by industrial wind opponents. The vote was three in favor of a ban, one opposed. About sixty people attended the public hearing before the vote.
"We see this vote as a sign that democracy can work," said Larry Karam, co-director and counsel of the Alliance for Bovina, which organized against industrial-scale turbines. "The great majority of people in this town opposed large wind turbines, they spoke up, and the town board and town supervisor listened. Our town board deserves its share of the credit for what has been accomplished. "
The wind turbine issue has heated up across the region as large wind developers, eager to take advantage of federal and state incentives, have secretly signed agreements with local landowners to site industrial wind turbines on the area's scenic mountain ridges. Since New York is a "home rule" state, the small rural towns where these projects are being proposed are forced to address this complex issue on their own, expending great amounts of time and energy. Bovina has shown itself to be a small giant by opposing wind development and asserting its right to home rule. Hundreds of residents have contributed to the effort. Town Board members who voted for the ban cited public opinion as their main consideration.
Hall Willkie, co-director of the Alliance for Bovina, explained that the Alliance was formed to help concerned citizens organize their opposition to corporate wind developers targeting the Catskills. "When we first learned of the threat of these huge wind projects in February 2006," says Willkie, "developers had already signed leases with property owners on ridges stretching across four towns. We were playing catch up. We could see that projects had moved forward quickly in other parts of New York where there was no opposition. Most of our constituents supported alternative energy but felt that clusters of 410-foot-tall wind turbines would be inappropriate for this scenic area. There were strong concerns about views, health, safety, noise, and property values. The Alliance polled the entire town and found 83 percent opposed having industrial wind turbines here. Our efforts focused on making sure the voice of the majority was heard."
PUBLIC COMMENTS Some of those attending the public hearing asked for changes to the draft law before the vote. Six speakers asked that turbines for residential use be allowed, claiming that as an individual right. Larry Karam said the Alliance for Bovina had steadily supported small wind turbines (under 125 feet) for home use. As for the draft law's exemption for farms, he asked that it be strengthened to close possible loopholes. Peter Henner, attorney for the Alliance for Bovina, asked that the law be clarified to allow only one turbine per farm in the case of an agricultural exemption. The Town Board decided, however, to vote on the draft law as written and they made no changes.
STATEMENTS BY THE BOARD Before voting, each board member made a statement. Tina Mole', Bovina Town Supervisor, said she was voting for the ban based on public opinion and existing zoning law. Chuck McIntosh and Ken Brown both supported wind as an alternative energy but said they would vote for a ban to represent the majority of the town. Randy Inman said he could not vote for a ban because he felt industrial wind development would provide needed energy and revenue without adverse impacts, based on what he had learned at Tug Hill, the largest wind project in New York. McIntosh, Brown and Inman also said they found those opposed to industrial wind development had been insulting and intimidating towards the Town Board. To the contrary, the Alliance for Bovina feels that those supporting a ban of industrial wind development simply exercised their rights as citizens, generally, in a thoughtful, respectful manner. Many observers have found Town Board members unwilling to engage in constructive dialogue on this issue and this has isolated them unnecessarily from their constituents.
WIND LAWS IN THE CATSKILLS Bovina's new law, which is an amendment to its zoning law, bans all wind turbines (both commercial and residential) but allows for wind turbines used to power a local farm, a right that is granted by the state of New York. The law goes into effect once it is recorded with the New York Department of State. Bovina is now one of a handful of upstate New York towns to ban commercial wind development-and the first in the Catskills. Others Catskill towns soon will have to make their own decisions. In Andes, the Planning Board has recommended banning commercial wind turbines but allowing residential and farm turbines; the Town Board is expected to concur. In Stamford, Invenergy, LLC has proposed a 34 turbine project which appears to have the support of town officials although local opposition is strong. In Meredith, where opposition to wind development is also strong, town officials appear to be split. The Alliance for Bovina actively supports those working to ban commercial wind development in these neighboring towns.
Tom Craveiro, co-director of the Alliance for Bovina, sees the vote as part of a broad movement to head off inappropriate wind development. Craveiro said "I believe the vote to ban commercial wind turbines in Bovina will encourage other towns in our area to do the same. Bovina was fortunate because our comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances made it clear that industrial wind development was not part of the community's vision for itself. Rather, our goal is to preserve the town's scenic, rural and agricultural character. Neighboring towns without zoning lack this guidance. We have benefited greatly from the efforts of those before us who gave Bovina a blueprint for the future. But it is up to each generation to be good stewards of the land and that is what we have done here. Time will tell if other Catskill towns will stand up to powerful wind developers and do the same."