By Benjamin Joe
Earlier this week, Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey was in attendance at the regular Town Board meeting in Wheatfield to discuss a few issues sure to affect residents, and perhaps the entire landscape of Wheatfield.
Last week, the legislature heard three resolutions involving Article 10, a controversial law, which is alleged to allow green-energy projects to be built despite any objection by the municipality where it’s been sited. However, Godfrey said, an even worse piece of legislation is coming down the pipes from Albany.
“The legislature has heard a number of resolutions, this last Tuesday night, one of which is forming an ad hoc committee, which they asked me to chair, and I am honored to do so, regarding solar, wind, the whole green energy thing as relates to Article 10,” Godfrey said. “Article 10 is a siting board where the governor can say, ‘I can go right around all of your planning, and I can ignore what you say, I can ignore what the people say and do what I want.’
“Just over the weekend, one of the things that came out of Albany, and it came last Thursday in Albany, they have opened up Article 10 for proposed changes,” he continued. “After reading that, it says, in many different ways, you can forget about Article 10; you can forget about a voice of the people; the state is going to turn over, basically, the whole siting process to Empire State Development, ESD.
“They can do what they want. There’s a phrase in there that we’ve interpreted to say they can literally take your land by eminent domain, and put whatever green energy they want to meet the governor’s need for green energy.”
According to Godfrey, this makes the ad hoc committee all the more important. He invited Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Don MacSwan to be part of it.
“All of the towns affected will be a part of it. We’ll have legal counsel as part of it. We have stakeholders in the community, property owners that have those sites, property owners that don’t have those sites – on this committee,” Godfrey said. “We’re going to try to keep it manageable, but once we start these meetings they will be open to the public – not going to be a free-for-all – I can guarantee you that – but we have got to stop the governor from closing our voices; silencing the people.”
Godfrey said the issue has grown from being a town issue and has been elevated to a county and state issue. However, he said the legislature will not get involved with the zoning of each municipality.
“We’re going to help organize you, we’re going to work with you, we’re going to work with New York Association of Counties, Association of Towns, and once and for all try to work together in a unified voice – whether or not we’re going to be successful – I can’t tell you,” Godfrey concluded. “But we’re not going to quit.”
In a press release, State Senator Chris Jacobs also criticized the governor’s proposal, which would allow renewable energy projects to circumvent the local municipalities from having a voice in whether the project application is approved. The power would instead be in the hands of state agencies.
“I have seen this governor try to ride roughshod over the democratic process and rights of local communities many times in the past, but this by far the worst instance,” Jacobs said.
“I was at a meeting last week relating to Article 10,” MacSwan said. “What we were told is that no matter what we do with our zoning laws, it means absolutely nothing, because the state mandate overrules it. Not great news.”
Other news Godfrey brought to the attention of the Town Board was rising lake levels, rural broadband, and his concern on the situation in regard to the Wheatfield Gardens, a modern greenhouse growing facility, which most notably harvests industrial hemp, and its relations with the surrounding area.
“You guy’s (the legislature) aren’t aware of this,” MacSwan said. “But we’re working with the Wheatfield Gardens and the residents to come up with a solution. … Hopefully we’ll have a good resolution with them. We’re not going to be able to make everyone happy, but I can tell you that myself, the Town Board and (Town Attorney) Matt Brooks and the building departments have been working tirelessly, really, to try to come up with a solution. … We’re probably going to be setting up a meeting with the residents in the near future.”
•“Just as a quick reminder,” Town Assessor Kelli Coughlin said. “Exemptions are due this Friday. Taxable Status Date is March 1. We leave the office at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. All exemptions have to be in.”
“I do want to spread the word that my office will be calling anybody that hasn’t, particularly our aging people that haven’t turned it in. We’re trying to get them in because we don’t want to remove any of those exemptions for them,” she said. “Spread the word that we will be calling, it’s not someone calling from a scam line or anything like that, we’re just trying to help them.”
•Chief Constable Roger Thompson announced an event this 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Town Hall.
“We have a presentation for the Constable Department,” he said. “Everyone’s invited. There will be food and a quick presentation as to what the Constable Department is about. It’s been sponsored by the Emergency Management Community here in town and, hopefully, we’ll get a big crowd.”
•Building Inspector Mike Klock announced the retirement of Don Wallace.
“I wanted to extend a congratulations to Don Wallace who is now on his last couple days of his 30-year career here. We want be sure we wish him the best for his retirement and congratulations,” Klock said. “So if you see him, you can probably catch him in the next couple days, but Friday, by noon, I think he’s done.”