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A windmill would look good here: Brunswick farmer fights for green power.

Chasing Windmills

A Brunswick farmer wants to harness wind energy, but runs afoul of town zoning restrictions

Herbert Headwell climbed a hillside on his farm in Brunswick, while explaining at length the technologies he believes will enable pioneering farmers to preserve their land and the environment, and at the same time turn a profit. His intention is that Misty Hills Farm, which he bought with his wife in 2001, will act as an exemplar of these new technologies working in congress.

“And I’m gonna win the New York State Fair with this hay here,” he said, and swung his arms across the open field, indicating a vast potential. It was windy on the hilltop, and he smiled. “You see? You see how windy it is up here?”

Since last year, Headwell has been fighting with Brunswick town officials for permission to add to his farm the latest in high-tech agricultural tools: a windmill.

The proposed windmill would sit atop a hill on his farm, 750 feet from the nearest house. It would feed 60 amps of electricity through an underground line to his new, 23,000-square-foot horse barn. He estimates that wind energy could satisfy 70 percent of his farm’s $900-a-month electricity usage. A grant is available through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that will cover 60 percent of the cost for purchasing and installing the structure. Plus, he plans to install solar panels to cover the remaining power usage, again utilizing a state grant. It seems to Headwell to be a win-win situation.

“Wind power and solar power working together,” he exclaimed. “It is a whole system.”

It was in just a matter of days, he said, after coming across a NYSERDA Web page last year about wind power grants, that he had his preparations in order and began the paperwork. Then he went to the town to apply for a building permit; that’s when plans for the proposed windmill, which would stand at 130 feet tall, hit a snag.

“Our situation was, it was over our height requirement,” said Brunswick Town Supervisor Phil Herrington. Brunswick building code restricts the construction of structures above 40 feet. The town felt that the windmill ought to be treated in the same way that any tall structure, such as a cell tower, would be.

“Just two years ago,” Herrington said, “they wanted to put a cell tower in the same area, and the people in Brunswick went crazy. We got in the middle of a legal situation. Eventually, they withdrew that proposal.” So when the application for Headwell’s windmill came along, Brunswick Superintendent of Utilities and Inspections, John Krieger, turned it down cold.

In a July 3 letter, Brunswick town lawyer Thomas Cioffi informed Headwell of the town’s decision, based on local zoning restrictions. Headwell hadn’t even been able to appear before the Zoning Board to make his case.

“Members of the Zoning Board told me they were excited about my project; that they had never seen anything like it,” Headwell said. “But what happened was Cioffi usurped their power. What he did was speed up the process of his own opinion.”

In the letter, Cioffi explained that the proposed windmill was not included in zoning provisions for agricultural land and that it also “far exceeds the maximum permitted for height” allowable for new structures. “In my view, the proposed wind generator is neither a ‘usual agricultural pursuit,’ a ‘usual agricultural accessory’ or a ‘usual agricultural accessory building.’ Wind generators are not common or usual structures on farms in this Town or this County. The mere fact that you want to use such a structure on your farm does not, in and of itself, make it a usual [emphasis his] agricultural pursuit . . .”

But Misty Hills is located inside a state designated Agricultural District, and is protected by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets law. If Ag and Markets decides that a windmill on protected farmland is, after all, a ‘usual agricultural pursuit,’ it doesn’t matter what local zoning says. The windmill is allowable.

Although windmills are ‘new’ to farms in New York state, in January of this year, Ag and Markets released an opinion on a case very similar to Headwell’s. Cogi Farms, located in Pawling, is also a commercial horse-boarding operation. It also applied for a permit to build a windmill, to supplement its power usage, and ran into trouble with local zoning. In the end, Ag and Markets said Cogi Farms could build the structure.

Headwell wonders why Brunswick officials were unaware of the Ag and Markets law and the Cogi Farms decision.

“I was aware of the Agriculture and Markets law provisions,” Cioffi said. “There is no way we could have been aware of that [Cogi Farms] because that’s another farm in another part of the state. We had no knowledge of that. So we contacted Ag and Markets and asked them about it, and they said that those kind of opinions are done on a case-by-case basis.”

John Rusnica, an associate attorney with Ag and Markets, agreed that every decision is made on its individual merits. But, he said, many municipalities are having trouble keeping track of the changing laws and that Brunswick is no different.

“He [Cioffi] just wasn’t familiar with what our law provided,” Rusnica said. “I have done a number of continuing legal educational programs where we had local officials come in with planning, zoning board members, along with municipal attorneys, to educate them. But we are still getting towns that aren’t familiar with our law.”

Headwell agreed that Cioffi wasn’t familiar with what the Ag and Markets law provided; he said that he had to provide that information to Cioffi.

Ag and Markets has yet to make a decision as to Misty Hills. “As long as the energy produced is used for the farm and not the residence, it would be applicable,” said Jessica Chittenden, spokeswoman for Ag and Markets. But, she said, they haven’t been asked to become officially involved, yet. Headwell said that he has left multiple messages with the department.

For Headwell, the misunderstanding and apparent ignorance of the provisions has been a time-consuming and costly setback. Between lost energy production, excess paperwork and an unnecessary land survey, he figures he has lost $5,000. But it isn’t the money lost that bothers him, he said, it is the resistance of the town to embrace new technologies. Technologies that he believes can help save the small farmer.

“The town’s focus,” he said, “is all wrong.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Safety Dance

On Tuesday (Aug. 25), Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings released his downtown safety initiative. Does the program involve curbing gang violence, getting guns off the street, or increasing police patrols in sensitive neighborhoods? No, it is not that kind of safety, stupid! The plan would give drunken people further reign over Albany during peak drinking hours, shutting down two blocks on North Pearl Street to cars on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. How serious was the issue to begin with? “We’ve had some minor incidents of people walking across this street, walking between cars, with some of the traffic here at night because it’s darker, it’s dangerous,” Jennings told reporters at a press conference.

Every Day is Halloween

A group of friends dressed as zombies were arrested in Minneapolis this week for carrying “simulated weapons of mass destruction.” The friends were taking part in a “zombie dance party” and were wearing backpacks with stereo pieces and wires hanging out of them. Police said the revelers “were arrested for behavior that was suspicious and disturbing.” Police also noted the group was intimidating people with their “ghoulish” makeup. They were not charged for creating fear of a zombie epidemic.

Speak for Yourself

Clifton Park Republican Chairman Michael Lisuzzo insisted last week that Kirsten Gillibrand does not live full-time in New York’s 20th congressional district, claiming that Gillibrand keeps an apartment in Manhattan. Sweeney’s office insisted that Lisuzzo was speaking for himself and not the campaign. However, the Sweeney campaign is now sporting campaign literature that pictures a Manhattan apartment, and says, “Gillibrand wants you to believe she calls our area home—but the FACTS tell a different story.” However, Gillibrand has produced evidence establishing that she has lived in Columbia County for two years. On the other hand, Sweeney was not a resident of the district when he was elected in 1998.



One Library Short

Residents of Arbor Hill want their library in a safe place; residents of West Hill want a library, period

Excitement, doubt and resignation simultaneously hung over a room at 200 Henry Johnson Blvd. last Thursday night. Representatives of the Albany Public Library presented their plans for an Arbor Hill branch and took comment from the public. For a number of meeting attendees, the fact that the board has a plan to build a library in Arbor Hill was all that mattered. Arbor Hill hasn’t had a functioning library for a number of decades. But a great many of the attendees had concerns, especially Ward 4 Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith.

Smith and a number of Arbor Hill residents are worried that the APL has already decided on a location—Henry Johnson Boulevard—for the library. And that location, they say, is unfriendly to pedestrians and dangerous for children. “It would be so much more positive for Arbor Hill to have a library within its borders, as opposed to on the edge of it,” said Smith. “The Henry Johnson location is not pedestrian-friendly. It is a thoroughfare for cars, not for humans.”

Smith would like to see the Arbor Hill branch located in the old St. Joseph’s Academy building on the corner of North Swan and Second streets. The APL’s facilities committee’s rules for selecting a property state that it would be preferable to own the property where a library is to be located, “to protect taxpayer investments.” St. Joseph’s academy is owned by the Albany Housing Authority.

Smith said that the library has successfully had branch locations in properties not owned by the city and can do it again. However, library public information officer John Cirrin noted that besides instances where the library has been forced to relocate because of a landlord, there are other problems. “There have been certain physical problems—leakages, water, things like that—and issues about who was responsible and response times. Also, we have to grow.” Cirrin insisted that building on the Henry Johnson lot would give them a chance to do that. Library officials assert they are taking the Henry Johnson site’s traffic problems into account.

“I’m happy it’s going to be somewhere in Arbor Hill,” says Ward 3 Common Councilman Corey Ellis. “My being councilman, I see both sides. The way I see it, people in Arbor Hill would like to see it at St. Joseph’s and people in West Hill would like to see it on Henry Johnson. Someone is not going to be happy.”

Residents of West Hill favor a branch on Henry Johnson in Arbor Hill, but West Hill Councilman Willard Timmons and West Hill Neighborhood Association President Leane Paeglow both said they don’t want a library near their community; they want one in it.

During the Thursday meeting, West Hill residents were told that there was some initial interest in creating a West Hill library, but things did not go as planned. Library officials told the audience that other branches were scheduled to be closed, thereby freeing up money for a West Hill branch, but residents of those communities “put their feet down” when they learned they were to lose their library branch. Those residents got their way, and as a result, the money that would have been available is instead being used to fund the libraries that were to be closed.

Paeglow said, “It’s just another slap in the face to West Hill, the city saying: ‘You are orphaned! We don’t care about you. You are not part of Albany.’ ”

Smith said that the library issue is pitting two not-well-off communities against each other. She noted that the areas of Arbor Hill and West Hill both desperately need libraries, more than other communities. “In Albany as a whole, 20 percent of the population is aged 0 to 18, and in Arbor Hill and West Hill, 39 percent of the population is aged 0 to 18.”

Cirrin said that library locations are not designed to serve simply one community. He said the main branch serves four to five communities.

Paeglow, however, insisted that the realities of living in West Hill do not make it reasonable for residents to walk to the Arbor Hill library. She said the feud between uptown and downtown gangs makes it quite dangerous. However, Paeglow added that, realistically, she blames herself and the other residents of West Hill for being overlooked for a library “I don’t have community members who really care about where they live. The ones that do, I’m just starting to get them to come out. Folks in West Hill have given up. They think, ‘Why bother? It’s gonna get ruined; it’s gonna get robbed.’ And that’s what has happened. The community has gotten tired with the prostitutes and the drugs, and is consequently not fighting anymore.”

Library officials are still looking for public input before they finalize plans for the libraries. Cirrin said it is not impossible to consider a West Hill branch but noted the more cost involved in the library referendum, the more likely it is voters will say ‘no’ when the referendum comes to a vote in December. Smith, however, is not ready to give up. “We will continue to engage with the library board as long as there is something to be discussed. I feel that where there is life there is hope.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


Righteous mom-to-be: Ani DiFranco speaks at NOW convention.

A Righteous Homecoming

In its 40th year, the National Organization for Women visits its roots in New York

The 40th anniversary of the National Organization for Women was celebrated during its annual national conference last weekend, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany. The weekend began with a Young Feminist Summit, which ended on Friday with an awards presentation that recognized people and groups making unmistakable strides in the modern feminist movement.

Among the award recipients were the Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers, a group of Pittsburgh high-school students who organized a “girlcott” of a line of offensive Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts, eventually getting the retailer to take the T-shirts off their shelves. Brian Collins, who represented Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, was also an award recipient and speaker.

Singer-songwriter Ani Difranco received an award for being a national voice for the feminist movement and for her work with her Righteous Babe Foundation, which supports grassroots efforts, lesbian and gay causes and reproduction rights, among many other things. The singer accepted her award and used the occasion to make a special announcement.

“It was suggested to me,” Difranco said, “that I take this opportunity, amongst such righteous babe-ishness, to make a little announcement, and that is that I am on a little journey now into the epicenter of women’s power, which is to say that I’m 12 weeks pregnant.” Her announcement was met by rousing cheers from the mostly female audience. Difranco then recited a poem she wrote, called “Reprieve,” about war, society and human nature, pausing in the middle to wipe tears from her eyes and whisper into the mic, “It’s the hormones.”

NOW, which is currently the largest organization of feminists in the United States with 500,000 members, was started as a political-action organization in 1966 by 28 people, including New Yorker and The Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan, who became the first president of the organization. (Friedan passed away earlier this year.)

This year’s conference was held in Albany because, according to Marcia Pappas, president of the New York state chapter of NOW, “the National Organization for Women was started in New York state by a New Yorker—we couldn’t have had it anywhere else.”

One of the biggest challenges for today’s feminist movement, said Pappas, is “helping younger people to understand that we have to be vigilant to protect our rights that we already have, but to also move forward to secure rights that we don’t have yet. I think that’s always the biggest challenge to any civil-rights movement.”

One way NOW is addressing this challenge is by holding the young feminist summits to give young people a venue in which they can come together to learn and talk about issues that affect them. “[We want] to empower them to go back into their communities,” Pappas said, “[and] have the skills to be able to make social change, and hopefully they will continue to do that kind of work that needs to be done to make those changes, and they also . . . know that they can come to [NOW] and be a part of something that’s greater than themselves and understand how coming together in a critical mass makes a huge difference in the way that we change the world.”

Changing the world, as Pappas knows well, also requires getting the right people into office. As far as the upcoming elections go, the NOW New York state Political Action Committee supports Eliot Spitzer for governor, and just yesterday (Wednesday, July 26) the organization announced its backing of Mark Green for attorney general.

Pappas says of Green, “Mark has always been good on women’s issues. Many candidates think that all we care about are reproductive rights, and that, of course, is very important, but Mark knows about all of the issues. He knows about matrimonial issues. He knows about child custody issues. He knows about issues around sexual assault and domestic violence. He is very aware of what goes on for women, not just for abortion rights but also about other issues that are really important and that affect women every single day.”

—Kathryn Lurie


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends

-no losse ends this week-



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