NEW BRITAIN — The Connecticut Siting Council voted Jan. 6 to hold two public hearings in Prospect to give citizens a chance to voice their opinions on two commercial wind turbines BNE Energy hopes to build in the town.
Siting Council Chairman Daniel Caruso said although the council has no legal obligation to hold public hearings, he thought it would be appropriate given the controversial nature of the issue.
The council voted to conduct a field review of the 178 New Haven Road location at 2 p.m. Feb. 24, with public comments to follow at 6:30 p.m. The council will hold evidentiary hearings the following day, with pubic comment again at 6:30 p.m. in Prospect.
Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield said he suggested those dates because there would be no school that week.
Caruso indicated that the council would take a long time to inspect the location to ensure the members were fully informed on the project.
“I would envision that we would take the time to inspect the location, as well as some of the surrounding areas,” said Caruso.
He also suggested council members visit wind turbine sites in other states.
The council also voted to grant party status to the town of Prospect, represented by Chatfield, and to Save Prospect Corp., the group of residents opposing the turbines. BNE opposed the council granting Save Prospect party status, which gives those representatives the right to testify at the hearings.
“I’m supporting the neighborhood,” Chatfield said.
Caruso warned that the council must deal with time restrictions as they must complete everything by May 16.
Tim Reilly, President of Save Prospect Corp., said he was happy to hear the chairman say he planned to inspect the surrounding area, which Reilly took to indicate that the council would examine the turbine’s impact on the adjacent residential neighborhood.
Reilly said he would ask the council to request BNE to erect test balloons at the proposed location of the turbines to they could see how high the turbines would be and their visibility to surrounding residences.
Reilly was glad to be granted party status and said he would begin preparing documents for testimony. Save Prospect opposes the turbines due to safety, noise, and quality of life concerns.
Gregory Zupkus, CEO of BNE, said he was also preparing his presentation for the Siting Council.
“As part of the hearings we will not only present information to the Siting Council about our project, but also take members on a tour of the site,” he said. “We are extremely proud of the work that has been done and are looking forward to this opportunity.”
BNE’s proposed project would be the first one of its kind in the state, and the company is looking forward to making it a reality.
“We’re excited about moving forward on the first commercial wind project in Connecticut. We have worked on this project for several years, performing numerous studies, and we look forward to presenting that information to the Siting Council and the public,” Zupkus said.
Planning and Zoning has no jurisdiction
In the opinion of the town attorney, the Planning and Zoning Commission is powerless from imposing its will on the proposed wind turbine project.
Prospect’s Planning and Zoning Commission informed members of Save Prospect Corp. that the town attorney advised them that the commission is not in a position to issue orders, according to Land Use Inspector Bill Donovan.
“Our town attorney said we can certainly provide comments, but there’s no statutory authority to overrule this state agency,” Donovan said.
Save Prospect previously submitted a Wind Power Development Order for the commission’s consideration which would effectively prohibit commercial wind turbines in Prospect by mandating setbacks and noise regulations.
The commission said they intended to come up with a list of their concerns and suggestions regarding wind turbines, which they will submit to the mayor to take to the Siting Council.
Donovan said he thought the Siting Council would listen to the town’s concerns.
“They sincerely want to hear from local residents on this project,” Donovan said.
As far as Save Prospect is concerned, the commission is abandoning its duty to the town.
“It’s Save Prospect’s position that the Planning and Zoning Commission is abdicating its responsibility to the residents of Prospect,” Reilly said.
He said he reminded the commission of U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal’s position that Connecticut is currently operating in a state of lawlessness as there are no regulations regarding turbines.
“By not challenging the unconstitutionality of turbine statutes, [the Planning and Zoning Commission] is putting the residents at great risk,” Reilly said.
He felt the committee should take a legal position challenging the deficiencies in state law.
“This is a time that calls for leadership and we need to see that in our local government,” he said.
Donovan said the Planning and Zoning Commission respects their legal advice.
“There’s no specific authority to issue an order or submit a new regulation after the fact or impose any sort of moratorium on the wind turbine project,” he said. “Local authority has no jurisdiction on being able to do that.”