by Terry Duffy
Year-end planning and some leftovers dominated much of the Porter Town Board's Dec. 12 regular meeting.
Turns out, one big leftover is the Town of Porter's wind energy project. Years in discussion by the Town Board with no actual construction as of yet, the project could now be facing funding deadline problems. Provisions contained in the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant program to municipalities for wind energy projects call for the projects to be underway, completed and operational by a March 31, 2012, deadline. At present, Porter approved the filing of applications to NYSERDA for $320,000 in grant money to build the projects and narrowed down a planned location to a Balmer Road site for construction of up to three possible wind energy units. However questions, primarily over the actual ownership of the Balmer Road property, as well as needed environmental-related approvals continue, and, as a result, Porter is now facing deadlines and the need to apply for extensions, if they're even available.
At the Dec. 12 session, Porter Town Attorney Mike Dowd informed the board that engineer Robert Lannon of CRA Associates is pursuing the matter with NYSERDA on seeking an extension.
And Dowd said he remains in discussion with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dowd reported that apparently there are now questions over who actually owns the property eyed for the project, located on Balmer Road across from the entrance of CWM Chemical Services LLC. "The U.S. Army thinks they own the property," Dowd told the board.
Supervisor Mert Wiepert and board members disputed that, saying the town had been deeded the property seven years ago by the government for construction of a water tower. Dowd suggested in his conversations with the Corps that they felt the property remained government owned. "They said the property was leased to the U.S. Air Force for training exercises."
He said the agency is now looking into aviation related concerns, namely any impact on Air Force personnel practicing at the site from the placement and operation of the wind energy units on the property. "They're not necessarily against them," Dowd said of the town's intent to build the wind energy units, but they had their concerns.
At the session, Council member Joe Fleckenstein suggested the town look into adding a third unit in an adjacent vacant land area that had formerly been dedicated for electric service lines. Board members concurred on the site's suitability for a wind unit and the matter was left with Lannon to pursue the NYSERDA extension.
Another leftover matter involved the issue of expanding responsibilities assigned to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. The town has been considering allowing the ZBA to pursue and approve special use recommendations on projects without Planning Board approval. Board members stated they felt the Planning Board had been taking too long to review projects.
Town Building Inspector Roy Rogers spoke in favor of maintaining the status quo of Planning Board involvement. "I favor keeping Planning in touch for recommendations," said Rogers.
Some board members opined they were leery of giving the ZBA too much leverage, saying they felt that including the views of both boards provided checks and balances in decision-making. "The intent here was to make the Zoning Board more active," said Fleckenstein, not allow them to make complete decisions (on special use recommendations).
However others opined that Planning had been taking way too long to review and issue decisions on critical projects, and that the ZBA had the capability to rule on its own. They went on to approve the change on a 4-1 vote, with Fleckenstein voting no.
In other news from the session:
•The board set a public hearing for Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, at 3 p.m. to consider an increase in sewer rates from $4 per 1,000 gallons to $4.65 per 1,000. The town said the reason for the increase is to offset the 50 cents per 1,000 rate increase from the Town of Lewiston Water Pollution Control Center (sewer treatment plant) and 15 cents to help offset the town's portion of the $3 million update at the Lewiston WPCC.
•The board approved, with regret, the resignation of longtime member William Tower from the ZBA, effective Dec. 31. It also approved the reappointment of Edward Hogan to the town's Board of Assessment Review, continuing to Sept. 30, 2016.
•Youngstown resident Paul Beatty discussed plans for a bigger 2012 Hospice Dash, a half-marathon he organizes yearly to benefit Niagara Hospice, which will be held on Sept. 22, 2012.
Beatty, who visited earlier with officials of the town and village of Lewiston and Youngstown in hopes of building support, told the Porter Board that Niagara Hospice has secured a grant to hire a staffer to market the event on a far bigger scale in the U.S. and Canada, with the goal of securing much greater race participation and increased fundraising for Hospice. Last year's event, which increased on its scale, was run from Artpark to Fort Niagara to Porter on the Lake and saw 1,000 participating.
Over the next year "We'll be bundling a package to greater market this event," said Beatty. "Our goal is 5,000 this year and we're looking for upwards of 10,000 in future years. "Many runners really like our course," said Beatty, telling the board "September is a good time of the year in the running circuit."
He also said the northern Niagara County area would undoubtedly benefit from a bigger event, with far greater exposure, more visitors and positive impacts on the local economy. "We're looking to up the ante here," said Beatty, in the form of a bigger setting, more activities, etc., for race participants. He said last year's entry fee of $55 per participant will likely increase for this year.
Porter Board members, like those in other communities, were upbeat on what they heard and promised their support wherever possible. "We're ready to help you out, let us know," said Wiepert.
•The board will hold its year-end session on Thursday, Dec. 29, at 3 p.m., and have its organizational meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, at 3 p.m., both at Town Hall.