Ghent backs mass events, questions high voltage

GHENT–The Town Board adopted Local Law #1 earlier this month, a mass-gathering ordinance that will allow certain types of large scale events to be held in the town if they adhere to new regulations and restrictions. The board also increased penalties for violating the town code.

The other major topic addressed at the monthly meeting August 15 was the proposal by New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) to construct a high voltage power transmission line through the middle of the town. But local officials and opponents of the NYSEG proposal believe they have a better plan and they are taking steps to be sure state decision makers consider Ghent’s alternative.

Low voltage vs. high

NYSEG currently has an application before the state Public Service Commission seeking approval for an 11.1-mile line to connect its local cables to a nearby line owned by National Grid. NYSEG has said the project is necessary to create a backup source of power for parts of the county served by a NYSEG line further south between Churchtown and Craryville.

Town residents and officials have made clear their opposition to the project, expressing concern over the impacts the proposed 115-kv line could have on the town’s environment, landscape, agriculture and tourism. The line’s proposed route runs through residential properties, farms and Art Omi, where large outdoor artworks are displayed for public viewing.

After the project was first proposed, two engineers helped the town come up with a low-voltage alternative that only would require upgrading existing lines. The town presented this plan to NYSEG engineers, who reportedly agreed it was a better option. But Town Attorney Ted Guterman said NYSEG subsequently cut off communication with the town and proceeded to file an application for the high-voltage option.

When the PSC requested more information about the town’s low-voltage alternative following hearings on the proposed line earlier this year the board approved hiring the two engineers, Richard Gross and Mike Guski, to present the low voltage option to state regulators. Mr. Guterman said last week that the engineers’ recent presentation to the PSC was “spectacular.”

Mr. Guterman told the board last week, “They did a wonderful job,” adding that the low-voltage alternative would have less impact on the environment.

He also said Protect Ghent, an organization of local residents opposed to NYSEG’s plan, has to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to review the project and to ensure the low-voltage alternative gets a fair hearing. Last week the board adopted a resolution formally supporting the Protect Ghent letter and requesting an opportunity for town representatives to meet with the Governor’s Office to “provide more details in connection with this matter.”

Mr. Guterman said the initial proposal was an 8.5-mile route for the new line, which would have required local approval. But NYSEG later modified its plan to lengthen the route to 11.1 miles. Any new line longer than 10 miles bypasses town jurisdiction in favor of the state.

The PSC may issue a preliminary decision late this year.

Mass gatherings okayed

The town’s new mass gathering law will allow residents or businesses to hold concerts, exhibitions and festivals if an applicant obtains a special permit from the Planning Board prior to the event. It sets a limit of two events per calendar year at any one site, with each event lasting no longer than two days.

With the Big Up three-day concert just having concluded in neighboring Claverack and several types of large events proposed for or staged in Ghent over the last few years, board members felt it was the right time to pass the local law. Councilman Peter Nelson said though adjustments may be needed, “It’s time to get something in the books.”

“If we find something, we could always tweak it down the road,” agreed Deputy Supervisor Larry Van Brunt. “There’s been a lot of work put into this.”

Councilman Richard Sardo said he was voting for it to allow the events to happen, but he said the law is “too restrictive.”

In addition to obtaining approval for a special use permit from the Planning Board, an event applicant must notify relevant fire and police departments, as well as the county Health Department. The applicant will have to obtain adequate insurance and will have to “demonstrate adequate measures have been taken in connection with fire protection, crowd security, police protection, public safety, traffic regulation, parking, sanitary facilities, adequate water supply, garbage disposal, emergency evacuation plan, first aid, and cleanup.”

Events must be at least 300 feet from adjoining properties, and the Planning Board has the authority to set the hours. Racetracks are banned under the new law, unless they involve temporary tracks that can be immediately dismantled following an event.

Mr. Guterman has said that weddings and parties held at restaurants are not affected by the law, since they are accessory uses to those businesses. Home parties also are not regulated by he law as long as those events are small-scale parties not open to the general public and do not charge admission.

Mr. Guterman said the language of the law was revised based on feedback from residents and town officials. “The requirements are all pretty straightforward,” he said.

Stationary car shows are permitted as accessory uses to restaurants, and events sponsored by the town or the fire departments are exempt.

During the public hearing prior to the vote last week resident Mike Zibella asked whether a natural barrier like a lake could reduce the requirement for a 300-foot setback. Mr. Guterman said that the town Zoning Board of Appeals would make those determinations.

Also at the August 15 meeting the board:

*Heard Mr. Guterman say that the county has received a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration stating that failure to expand its safety zone at the Columbia County airport in West Ghent could affect future federal funding. He said the county is seeking an attorney to pursue seizing by eminent domain part of Meadowgreens Golf Course, which is at the north end of the runway. He suggested the town invite an official from the county to provide more details so the board could learn more about the case.

*Authorized the town clerk’s office to sell E-ZPass tags, used to electronically pay highway and bridge tolls. The town will obtain 24 passes to start and will make about $4 on each pass sold.

*Heard Councilwoman Linda Schlegel-Hess said this year’s Ghent Community Day will feature fireworks for the first time. It is scheduled for October 5 at the Town Highway Garage.

 

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