Some Hopkinton residents who signed wind leases say they are being publicly persecuted
By MATT LINDSEY
HOPKINTON -- Three residents who have signed leases to locate wind turbines on their property say they have been persecuted publicly because they stand to gain monetarily, but they still favor wind power to combat taxes and global warming.
Avangrid wants to build the 40-turbine North Ridge Wind Farm in Parishville and Hopkinton. The wind farm could mean a significant cut in property taxes, benefit schools and a create a positive ripple effect on the local economy, supporters say.But opponents say turbines can damage health, devalue property and damage the local economy.
At times the debate has turned ugly with accusations of harassment and theft.
“We’ve had some stolen signs – it’s rather sophomoric,” said Hopkinton leaseholder Frank Potenzano. “People are yelling at each other in meetings – this is not the way people in Hopkinton are – I’ve lived here for 45 years and people have always been great.”
Fellow Hopkinton leasehold Gail Kelly said she left a recent meeting feeling “so humiliated” after a wind turbine opponent read a letter to the editor that Kelly had submitted to a newspaper and critiqued it publicly. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I am 67 years old and that’s a little embarrassing.”
“No friends lost,” said Richard “Dick” Eakins, a Hopkinton farmer and leaseholder. “People that didn't like me before still don't like me – they were not my friends anyways.”
Noting “taxes are a major expense for everyone … all residents,” Eakins said. “This is one way to lower it.”
Leaseholders Under Fire
“It's a very opinionated and subjective topic,” said Potenzano, whowill have one turbine on his State Highway 11B land if the wind farm is built. “As a landowner, I don't want to be subjected to derogatory comments.”
Potenzano says he and his wife have been subjected to sneers and mumblings at public meetings. “We’ve been called money grubbers, parasites and other names that can’t be printed,” he said. “It’s a total lack of respect.”
Potenzano says some of his friends are experiencing “family friction” and not speaking to relatives over the wind farm. As far as his social life is concerned, “No lost friends,” he said. “We understand each other and respect each other’s opinions.”
Gail and Timothy Kelly could potentially have a wind turbine placed on their land, depending on if the setbacks “aren’t too restrictive.”
The impact the proposed wind tower farm has had on Kelly’s relationships in the community is “very sad,” she said.
Mr. Kelly ran a sawmill business for over 40 years in Hopkinton. “We run into people at town meetings that we’ve known for decades and they don't even want to talk to us,” Mrs. Kelly said.
“I have walked out of town meetings due to name calling,” Kelly said. “We did have signs stolen a couple weeks ago too.”
Eakins says he has been unfairly criticized in opinion pieces over his farming skills. He owns about 2,000 acres \ on state highways 72 and 11B, and would have three turbines on his land. “People have glared at me (at meetings) – it doesn't bother me.”
Eakins says anti-wind residents have tried to bully and harass others in an effort to get their way. “I’ve been called names … been accused of being greedy.”
But Eakins says some of his friends do not attend meetings because they do not want to be harassed.
Potenzano says landowners have been quiet and let anti-wind residents “say their piece,” even if it is out of turn. “If we have a comment, we speak at the appropriate time and don’t interrupt a meeting to blurt something out.”
On Aug. 21, a wind opponent was asked to leave a wind law public hearing in Hopkinton for being “disruptive.” Wood had requested a state trooper attend the meeting after reading comments made on Facebook.
Supporters Dispute Opponents
“It is frustrating – the facts don't support their position,” Potenzano said. He said he has read studies and tests done by MIT and the World Health Organization and saw no evidence that wind turbines cause health or environmental issues.
Eakins also does not buy into wind turbine syndrome or similar effects. “If there was an issue with health or environmental issues the state would be all over it.”
Potenzano says his interest in wind farms reflects his views on global warming.
“My wife and I redid our home in 2005 and in putting in a new heating system we wanted to do something for our grandkids – we installed a geothermal heating system – which was twice the cost of a propane or electric system,” he said.
Potenzano says the carbon footprint from manufacturing wind towers “pales in comparison” to oil and coal production – which is a “constant source of pollution.” “Once they are built they make clean energy,” he said.
“When Avangrid approached us we were thrilled to be a part of this,” Potenzano said. “We feel that global climate change is an issue that the world needs to address … we are killing this planet.”
Potenzano said he understands the towers might make people anxious – “but people are also afraid of clowns … they make medications for that.”
Potenzano is comfortable with tower setbacks of 1,500 feet and a sound limit of 45 dBA. He said he had access to an audiometer, which calculated his “conservative” voice at 65 to 72 dBA. “At 1,500 feet you wouldn't hear me.”
“I have a hard time believing that the noise will be disruptive,” Potenzano said. “I used to live near train tracks and after a few weeks we got used to it.”
As for the towers impacting the scenic view many North Country residents enjoy – “I really don't see that,” Potenzano said.
“On a clear day I see power lines, cell towers and silos that protrude on the tree-line – it doesn't detract as far as I am concerned,” Potenzano. “There are flashing lights on cell towers 24 hours a day and that doesn't appear to bother anyone.”
“Personally I don't have an issue with the aesthetics (of wind towers) – even before the possibility of a wind farm we had no issues with them,” Kelly said.
“They will be less visible – they are well planned out compared to Franklin and Clinton counties,” Kelly said.
Eakins said the loss of a scenic view is what he feels bothers the most people who are opposed. “It’s hard to sell a scenic view on why not to have them (towers),” he said.
Kelly said she has seen no evidence of home losing value once a wind farm is built in an area.
“We watched property being sold in Brainardsville and there were no issues selling homes,” Kelly said. “What is different,” she says, “is that several new homes have been erected that can look out and see the turbines – we aren’t seeing what people told us we would see.”
Eakins agreed he has no seen evidence of properties being devalued following wind turbine construction.
Kelly thinks the setbacks should be less restrictive. Her land is in the Adirondack Park, which has been a debated topic at town government meetings, relating to the wind overlay zone which could see the wind overlay zone expanded south of SH 72 to allow towers to be sited closer to the ADK park.
If the 2,500-foot setback is implemented, Kelly did not feel that Avangrid would be able to come place one on her land. “If we don't get one (on her land) that’s okay – if Hopkinton gets them it will be good for the economy.”
Wind Money Windfall?
“Any way for the town to get money, I don't care,” Eakins said about PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements. “If the town wants tax payments we may have to wait 10 years.”
So far, there are no wind farms in New York State that do not have a PILOT agreement that provides for less payments than full taxation would require.
Even though the job is only expected to create five or six permanent jobs, Eakins said he feels the “spinoff is far better than that.”
“Roads will need maintenance – if you put that much money into the community it will lead to more school employees and maybe even more town employees,” Eakins said. “More good will come out of it.”
Kelly believes that a tax break for property owners and revenue for the town would benefit all.
“Taxes will be lower, towns will get new equipment that they need now or will need in the future,” Kelly said. “Taxes are rising and schools are cutting back … it would be nice to put back all that was lost for schools (during cutbacks).”
Kelly is “comfortable” with the idea of a PILOT agreement. “It helps ensure steady income for towns and schools, as opposed to depreciation from the towers.”
Kelly said having a known income would allow towns and Parishville-Hopkinton Central to budget more easily.
“Look at the proposal compared to other farms in New York – Avangrid has been fair,” Kelly said.
Eakins says he wants wind towers for a “combination of several factors.”
“About 20 years ago I was riding around with some friends and it was said that this country hasn't built anything major in years to increase our energy source – every time it does someone blocks it,” Eakins said.
“Yes I will make money – it will help – but it won’t pay all of my taxes,” he said.
Eakins said PILOT/tax money can be used to fix bridges and other infrastructure and could be used to lessen the high debt load of the government.
“I feel it would spur the economy in the area,” Eakins said. “It’s a depressed area.”
Eakins, who came under fire for a banner that said Hopkinton taxes would be cut by 50 percent, says he stands by that statement.
“I asked (Susan Wood) ‘do you think the town will get $300,000’ (from Avangrid) – and she said we should get at least that,” Eakins said.
The town budget for last year was $560,000. “At least it gets people thinking,” Eakins followed up with.
“I am not moving … I am not retiring … I will continue to farm whether they (turbines) come or not,” Eakins said.
“We aren’t in it for the money –we’ve been pro-wind for many years,” Kelly said.