Legislator Godfrey Offers Testimony at Hearing on Bear Ridge Solar Project

The New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) held two public hearings this week on the Bear Ridge Solar project planned in the towns of Cambria and Pendleton. Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey provided the following testimony at Tuesday’s hearing:
Good evening. My name is Dave Godfrey and I am a Niagara County Legislator, representing the towns of Cambria and Wilson and part of the Town of Wheatfield.

As a public official – like every public official in this room – I take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York. Indeed, the New York constitution is the highest law in our state, the guiding principles as voted on by our residents. It’s unfortunate that the constitution appears to be so easily circumvented.

For, in that constitution, it clearly states “The policy of the State shall be to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products. The legislature, in implementing this policy, shall include adequate provision for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise, the protection of agricultural lands” ….. let me repeat that last phrase .…. “The protection of agricultural lands.”

Indeed, we have a local Agricultural and Farmland Protection Boards … of which I honored to serve as Chairman. We have a state Department of Agriculture and Markets that is charged with promoting farming and protecting farmland. We recognize the uniqueness and importance of farmland by treating it differently. We tax it differently. We zone it differently. We pass legislation declaring certain communities as “right to farm.”

Most certainly, we have always left it to our local communities to maintain that vital balance between agriculture and development. They do this through their zoning power, through their planning boards, through their master plans. It’s the concept of “Home Rule”, another bedrock principle of our constitution.

Yet, the state has decided to shred the constitution in its haste to develop industrial wind and solar projects. Thousands upon thousands of acres of agriculture land will be lost for decades – if not forever—to achieve these goals. This completely ignores the growing concerns around food security and our ability to produce the agricultural products that are vital to our survival. There is a complete lack of recognition that this top down strategy from Albany in violation of the state Constitution is going to create a whole different set of problems.

I want to stress that I, along with Legislator Nemi who represents the Town of Pendleton, and in fact ALL of my fellow legislators, clearly understand and support adding alternative energy sources to the state’s portfolio. However, this is a classic case of Right Time, Wrong Place. There is no doubt this is the right time to be aggressively supporting alternative energy. But destroying prime agriculture land is the Wrong Place to be doing it.

We should be exploring brownfields, landfills and former industrial sites that are now unproductive land masses which could be given a second life as home for solar farms. It would be the highest and best use of these sites and we would work together to embrace these opportunities.

Destroying farms for solar panels is not the highest and best use of that land. The Town of Cambria has appropriately applied its power as a local government to reject this mega project that threatens the very way of life in the town. There is nothing unduly burdensome – to use the same language of the State statute – in any of our town’s zoning rules and code enforcement when it comes to this project.

The Town is upholding the State Constitution to protect its farmland, and doing so within its rights as a local government. This project simply cannot go forward, and we will exercise every legal avenue available to us to be sure it does not.

Thank you.