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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Berne without wind for a year

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — After nearly four months of discussion, the town has a moratorium on residential and commercial wind turbines.

Shell WindEnergy’s plans to put commercial turbines on the crest of the Helderbergs galvanized community interest in the Hilltowns, causing several towns to start work on appropriate zoning. Shell has since withdrawn, but other companies have expressed interest.

At its March 11 meeting, the town board passed the “Town of Berne Wind-Energy-Facilities Moratorium Law,” which, for one year, bars the acceptance and processing of any applications for the construction, erection, replacement, or modification of all wind-energy facilities in Berne.

But, before the vote, a public hearing was held, during which several residents expressed reservations about the last phrase of the third section, which indicated that the town would be “fostering the development of alternative energy sources.”

“Who’s telling you to write this stuff this way?” asked Jim Cooke, a resident who has frequently questioned the viability of bringing windmills to the Helderbergs.

“Is this a statement handed down from great on high?” he asked. “I think that I have a problem with that particular phrase because I’m afraid some lawyer will take it and put it in his backpack and hit the town over the head with this later on,” he said.

Other residents echoed Cooke’s objection to this phrasing; the one resident who spoke in favor of bringing wind energy to the area did not comment on the moratorium itself.

After some discussion, the board agreed to omit the phrase in question, and passed the law unanimously.

The purpose of the moratorium, according to the now-truncated draft law, is to “afford the town of Berne an opportunity to update the town’s existing comprehensive land-use plan and zoning ordinance, and prepare adequate zoning regulations governing the establishment, erection, placement, construction, enlargement, replacement, and modification of wind-energy facilities to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the town’s residents in order to preserve the character of the town and protect the natural and scenic resources of the town.”

As for what comes next, “We’re currently reviewing the town’s comprehensive plan,” said Supervisor Kevin Crosier. “The public needs to be educated on all the different types of renewable energy, because there’re consequences for municipalities who act too swiftly. So, this [moratorium] gives the town a chance to work with the residents and see what their vision for the future is.”

But this look at renewable energy is just one part of an overall review of the comprehensive plan, now close to 20 years old.

“There will be meetings with church groups, fire departments, senior citizens, farmers — all sorts of groups,” Crosier said. “The object of this is to reach out to as many people in the community as possible, and get the most diverse [set of] views we can from everybody.”

A questionnaire will be mailed out, and there will be informational sessions, he said.

“The comprehensive plan is a vision of how the residents see their town,” Crosier concluded. “That’s what it’s about — your comprehensive plan is your vision, and the zoning is how you accomplish that vision. So, in our comprehensive plan, we’ll be talking about renewable energy.”

Other business

In other business at its March 11 meeting, the town board:

— Announced that the town received a $500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency. This will cover half of the recent $1,000,000 increase in the overall cost of the town’s sewer project;

— Announced that it was looking for members for a sewer-use committee. “It’ll be an advisory committee,” Crosier said. “Since we’ll have a grievance process for the new sewer district, one function of the committee will be to hear grievances from residents. Another will be to make recommendations back to the town board on anything from staffing to how the sewer district is spending its money,” he said; and

— Unanimously approved the purchase of a new waste-oil furnace for the highway department for the cost of $13,425, including installation.

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