In April 2006, within a week of notifying the
general public, UPC Wind
submitted a complete 800+ page DEIS
(Draft Environmental Impact Statement) to the Cohocton Town Planning Board for
approval as part of an application for building permits under New York's
SEQR process for evaluating wind farm proposals. A public comment period was
announced, closing on June 9th, with one public hearing before the Planning
Board scheduled on May 25th. The hearing was managed by a lawyer hired by the
developer. According to rumor, all of the members of the Town Council and Town
Planning Board have expressed their full support for the project prior to
receiving any significant input from the general public. How could this have happened?
How Things Started
Back in 2002 and 2003 UPC Wind began looking into the possibility of
undertaking a major wind power project in our area, first by contacting individual
landowners with hilltop property and later by opening private conversations with
By 2004 when they had determined that there was sufficient
interest and private commitment to go forward, they installed several towers on
our highest hills to measure wind speed after undergoing a questionably
complete permit process, and then began engineering and
environmental studies with the goal of developing a concrete proposal. All of this investigation was done very quietly and privately. What little
was heard by local citizens was primarily in the form of hazy rumors.
The Next Phase
Some time in late 2004 or early 2005 the developer
began working with members of the Town Board to draft a special zoning variance
or "Windmill Law" that would be favorable to the establishment of an
industrial wind power plant on agriculturally zoned land. Later in 2005, the
developer invited a number of Cohocton residents, primarily landowning families
interested in leasing and Town officials, to take an expense-paid guided tour of
a small wind farm in Fenner, NY. All of this occurred prior to last fall's Town
elections, but none of it was publicized enough to allow it to become an
However, shortly after the election, members of the
newly-inaugurated Town Board, already fully in favor of a project that the
public had yet to hear about, met and passed a Windmill Law (#1) that catered to the
interests of the developer to such a degree that it was challenged legally through the filing of an Article 78 complaint.
The response of the Town Board, following the developer's legal counsel, has
been to withdraw Windmill
Law #1 and replace it with a more strongly worded version, known as Local
(Windmill) Law #2.
Where We Are Now
Members of the community are scrambling to find out
what's going on and how to respond constructively to what is happening.
Citizens who have just heard about the situation are working through troubling
emotions of anger, frustration and hurt, feeling left out of a decision-making
process that could have significant potential impact on the enjoyment and use of their
property. Many feel tricked and deceived. Against this backdrop stand those who've been "in the know" for years, courted by a persistent team,
supported financially, armed with literature and sales responses, and backed up
by a fully-staffed campaign sales office
right beside the Post Office in downtown Cohocton. Meetings are being called, but our elected
officials so far seem unwaveringly committed to pushing through the approval
process, no matter what the general populace, Cohocton's electorate, may think.
It looks like a legal showdown may be coming with UPC Wind's corporate lawyers
waiting in the wings to do battle.
Why can't we step back together and look at an
way of handling this situation, like the folks in
Malone, NY did earlier
* How does SEQR
According to its website (see link above) "New
York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) requires all state and
local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social
and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.
"This means these agencies must assess the
environmental significance of all actions they have discretion to approve, fund
or directly undertake. SEQR requires the agencies to balance the environmental
impacts with social and economic factors when deciding to approve or undertake
"If an action is determined not to have
significant adverse environmental impacts, a determination of nonsignificance
(Negative Declaration) is prepared. If an action is determined to have
potentially significant adverse environmental impacts, an EIS or 'Environmental
Impact Statement' is required.
"The SEQR process uses the EIS to examine ways
to avoid or reduce adverse environmental impacts related to a proposed action. This
includes an analysis of all reasonable alternatives to the action. The SEQR 'decision
making process' encourages communication among government agencies, project
sponsors and the general public (italics added)."
The SEQR process starts with the public presentation
of a DEIS or "Draft Environmental Impact Statement" which is supposed
to inaugurate a time in which public officials and the citizens they represent
discuss the pros and cons of the proposed action and come to a mutual decision
about whether to proceed.
Are we following the spirit of the SEQR process here
in Cohocton or just going through the legal motions?