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August 15, 2013

Wind farm approved in disputed vote

RICHFIELD SPRINGS  — The Richfield Town Planning Board, for the second time in two years, voted Monday night to permit the six-turbine Monticello Hills wind farm to be constructed on the western edge of the town, but the validity of the vote was immediately questioned by Town Supervisor Fran Enjem.

Enjem said that Planning Board Chairman Donald Urtz should not have allowed an alternate member of the board, Dick Harris, to cast a vote.

With Harris in the mix, the resolution passed 4 to 1, with Janet Sylvester being the lone dissenter. To move forward, the project needed a “super majority” of the board in favor of it. Without the participation of Harris, the outcome would have been 3 to 1, shy of the level of support it needed to win approval.

Enjem cited a section of state General Municipal Law, which states that alternate members of planning votes may only vote in the event one of the regular members of such a panel must abstain because of a conflict of interest.

Enjem also noted that in order to become a full member of the Planning Board, the town board would have had to vote to install Harris in that capacity. That has not happened, he pointed out.

Enjem, clutching a copy of the law in one hand, raised his other hand just as the planners were taking up the controversial resolution in a Richfield Springs High School meeting room where opponents of the 492-foot wind turbines greatly outnumbered supporters. Enjem tried to convince the planners not to go forward with the vote, but though he is the town’s top elected official, he was not allowed to address the board.

The planning board’s attorney, David Merzig, who is also the town attorney, advised the planners to go forward with the vote, reasoning that if the validity of the vote is in dispute, it could be settled later.

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