Philipstown ZBA Grants Special Permit for Wind Turbine

Site plan also approved, but insurance and bond sought

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

By a vote of 3-2, Philipstown’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night (Oct. 1) approved a special-use permit for a controversial residential wind turbine in Garrison, ending a year of public debate over that project but not over the larger question of utilizing alternative forms of energy in Philipstown.

The residential-type wind turbine proposed by James Gleick for his property (photo courtesy of Hudson Valley Wind Energy)

The residential-type wind turbine proposed by James Gleick for his property (photo courtesy of Hudson Valley Wind Energy)

The board also voted 3-2 to approve the site plan for the wind turbine, but sought demonstration of  adequate owner liability insurance for the 152-foot turbine as well as a financial surety bond to cover costs should the town government ever need to go in and remove a defunct turbine or deal with a similar problem.

Since autumn 2012, James Gleick has wanted the turbine, a form of modern, backyard windmill, to provide energy for his rural home, on 40 acres. The application launched adamant opposition from some neighbors and critics, a series of public hearings, a change in application from a variance to a special-use permit, intervention by the Town Board to move the case along, and the decision by the Town Board in late September to pursue a moratorium on further wind turbines until it can review the 2011 zoning code and update it to address issues raised by alternative energy mechanisms.

In contrast to massive commercial wind-farm turbines, arrayed across swathes of land, the Gleick windmill would be small scale. Proponents of wind energy tout it as a clean, green and safe source of power, unlike nuclear energy, coal, or oil. Gleick needs the special permit because the zoning code currently allows wind power but categorizes a structure taller than 40 feet as a major project, triggering the requirement for a special-use permit.

ZBA Chairman Robert Dee announced at the beginning of the special meeting, in Town Hall, that the board would not take further public comments. “Some residents may agree and others disagree with the board’s decision tonight,” he said. “Every board member has the best interests of Philipstown and its residents in mind when they make the decision.”

On the brink of voting on the turbine Sept. 9, the board pulled back after it received more objections that Gleick’s turbine would be too noisy. The ZBA then scheduled a follow-up session for Tuesday and asked its planning consultants, AKRF, in the interim to provide expert advice on the noise question.

At the Tuesday meeting, Dee read aloud AKRF’s determination. “Based on our analysis,” the firm declared, “it is AKRF’s recommendation that the ZBA conclude that this project would not result in excessive off-premise noise and would fulfill the criteria” of the town code in regard to noise.

ZBA Member Paula Clair said that she had visited a couple of active turbines like the one Gleick intends to use. “I could not hear the turbines at all,” she said.

Clair joined Dee and ZBA Member William Flaherty in voting to grant the special permit. ZBA Members Vincent Cestone and Leonard Lim voted “no” on the permit. The same vote breakdown occurred on the site-plan approval.

However, as part of its site-plan action, the ZBA proposed that Gleick show a suitable level of insurance coverage and post a financial surety bond, whose amount would be set by the Town Board, not the ZBA. Dominic Cordisco, ZBA attorney, advised “that you recommend to the Town Board that they impose appropriate liability insurance, naming the town as an additional insured, as well as imposing appropriate surety for future removal of the tower if necessary,” before issuance of a town building permit on the turbine. The board concurred and the lawyer promised to provide the exact wording in writing of the provision before Dee signs the site-plan approval documents.

In general, Cordisco assured the board, “when you grant a special permit,” for a wind turbine or anything else, “the town does not become automatically liable for anything that happens on the site beyond your control. It does not mean the town is liable,” he said.

After the votes, Greta Passeri, of Hudson Valley Wind Energy LLC, the company working with Gleick and representing him at public meetings, expressed satisfaction at the outcome. “I’m pleased the ZBA followed the code, because it is an allowed use,” she said of wind power. “I wish it wouldn’t have taken a year. I’m hoping this is going to be a positive forward motion for Philipstown. It’s just disappointing” that local residents often seem to favor green-energy environmentalism “but when it actually is put in front of them, they balk. It’s frustrating.”

5 thoughts on “Philipstown ZBA Grants Special Permit for Wind Turbine

  1. Yes! Congratulations on the approval of the wind turbine. We need more alternative energy and to finally close down Indian Point that now operates without a license and is a danger to our community, our homes and the health of our families. Remember the disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

  2. I sincerely hope that either the neighbors or one of the environmental groups that came out against this monstrosity will bring an Article 78 lawsuit against the ZBA and any other board involved with this decision. The entire global warming / climate change / greenhouse gas mythology has been proven over and over to be just that — a fiction imposed on the American public until it’s become gospel. Meanwhile, our country is being de-industrialized and the cost of electricity sky rocketing, as Obama promised, while people like Al Gore become billionaires trading off of carbon credits. The truth is, the owners of this property could get their politically correct green energy from Central Hudson without causing a mini-environmental disaster in their own back yard that will end up killing more birds than any insurance or bond will cover.

    • How many degrees of temperature increase, floods, droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, feet of sea rise and melting ice caps, will it take for you to wonder if climate change might be real?

    • The opening words of the 2013 (Fifth) Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific organization under the auspices of the U.N. and staffed by more than 600 leading scientists who review research evidence from around the world, are: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” The scientists state that the evidence indicates a better-than-95 percent chance that climate change since the mid-20th century has been caused predominantly by human activity. Concurring statements have been issued by, among many others, 34 national science academies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general science society in the world.

      Why must climate-change research be characterized as some sort of plot against Americans? The United States contains less than 7 percent of the world’s land mass and about 4.5 percent of the world’s population. Not everything is about us.

      Meanwhile, the death rate in Moscow (Russia) doubled during the unprecedented heatwave in 2010. Over the summer of 2012-13 (our winter) in Australia, more than 300,000 acres burned in forest fires set off or exacerbated by extreme heat. Glacial melt in the Andes threatens the long-term water supply and the livelihood of farmers in Peru. In Namibia, a prolonged drought has left about one-third of the population vulnerable to famine. And on and on, year after year and virtually everywhere a [reasonably well-informed and evidence-accepting] person looks. Heat waves, drought, rising seas, and the other effects of global climate change are not deterred by national boundaries.

      That is why many of us would be delighted to see more of our energy needs met through clean, sustainable sources, even at the cost of some arguably tarnished views, or somewhat higher energy costs in the short run. The trade-offs are worth it.

  3. What none of the “there’s-no-noise-from-windmills” geniuses have figured out is that the real problem is that when there are multiple windmills running at similar frequencies and slightly different phases, a 3D interference pattern is established by the multiple sound wave fields colliding with each other. This causes a standing wave pattern in which several areas will have the low frequency sounds tremendously amplified. Standing at such a location one could be bombarded by a tremendous sound wave, whereas a few yards away could be dead silence.

    Now assume one’s home sits right where one of those loud-standing waves constantly hits and one can easily imagine that the home essentially becomes a large low-frequency drum. And the horrible thing about low frequencies is that they penetrate everything (including you) and there is no practical way to establish baffles or barriers.

    This is basic high school (or first-year college physics) knowledge regarding wave behavior. Or at least it was 45 years ago when I went to school. Who knows what (if anything) is taught in government schools these days.

    (BTW, documenting the above phenomenon with actual measurements and the attendant mathematical models would make for a great PhD thesis.)