A coalition of local organizations opposed to the 106-square mile Alle-Catt wind farm proposal took majorities on two host towns and the supervisor’s position in a third host town in Tuesday’s elections.
The wind farm proposal, under review by a state siting board, would install about 116 wind turbines, each 600 feet high, in the towns of Rushford, Centerville, Freedom and Farmersville.
The state siting law, known as Article 10, requires compliance with local laws governing wind and solar projects.
Earlier this year the four principle host towns adopted new local laws requested by developer Invenergy, but Cattaraugus County Supreme Court nullified Freedom’s local law for procedural irregularities.
As a result of Tuesday night’s vote count, members of project opponents Freedom United and Farmersville United became the majority on their town boards.
In Farmersville, Pete Lounsbury Jr. won the town supervisor’s seat and Farmersville United president Mark Heberling won a seat on the town board. Pam Tilton, a pro-wind town councilman who ran a write-in campaign against Lounsbury, received only 110 votes against her opponent’s 221 votes.
Donna Vickman, who worked closely with Heberling’s group, won a second seat on the Farmersville Town Board.
Geoff Milks, whose wife Stephanie is president of Freedom United, won a seat on that town’s board, while Freedom United member John Hill was reelected to the town board.
“Considering that at least 60 voting-age Farmersville Amish did not vote, nor did about 100 non-resident landowners who belong to Farmersville United, this was a powerful expression of the community’s wishes,” according to Heberling.
“In Farmersville, I expect the agenda will change in January, and we will see a new local law governing big wind projects,” Heberling said.
“I can say much the same about Freedom,” said Geoff Milks. “Invenergy pulled out all the stops, offering its supporters dinners and drinks, campaign support and more, but the problem is they’re selling a bad product.”
County Legislature elections also turned the Coalition’s way. Ginger Schroder of Farmersville won a seat on the Legislature, and several legislators who earlier this year supported a policy to deny tax breaks for wind farms by the county Industrial Development Authority were reelected. “I hope to keep rural Cattaraugus County rural, a principle embodied in the County’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Schroder.
“I’m happy to see the voters saw through the smear tactics of Invenergy’s supporters. This project and those like it create a handful of low-paying part-time jobs, hardly a basis for opening up the public coffers for them,” Schroder said.
George Borrello’s clear victory in the campaign to take Cathy Young’s state Senate seat also bodes well for the Coalition. “The wind industry wants to eliminate the last vestige of home rule under Article 10, and we need George to help hold the line,” Heberling said.
Gary Abraham, who represents the Coalition in the state siting proceeding, said he hopes the election results spawn more discussion about the trade-offs big wind and solar projects involve for rural towns.
“Information submitted in the Article 10 process indicates each of these projects reduces power sector emissions — which are one-third of all our emissions — by a fraction of a percent,” Abraham said. “If you want to meaningfully address climate change, you can’t get there from here. Maybe a deeper discussion of this problem will now take place.”