Judd Hirsch’s Wind-Power Plan Unsettles Catskill Town

New York Times – by KIA GREGORY

DENNING, N.Y. — Blanketed by the stillness of stone-faced mountains and endless trees now shaded rust and gold, the town of Denning is quiet, so quiet, one longtime resident likes to say, you can hear your heartbeat.

As in other towns in the Catskills, the 550 residents of Denning are a mix of weekenders and full-timers with the occasional celebrity tucked in, like the actor Judd Hirsch, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years. Like his neighbors — neighbors being a relative term, as some live hundreds of yards apart — he came for the peace, but what Mr. Hirsch is proposing to do on his 96-acre property is creating no small amount of disturbance.  

He plans to install a 177-foot-tall wind-turbine electric generator on his land, and dozens of residents have signed a petition in opposition.

“I bought property up there, built a house, because it’s beautiful, and the ‘forever wild’ promise that was made,” said Richard Benkwitt, 61, who lives in a log house about a mile down a mountain from Mr. Hirsch. The turbine, in Mr. Benkwitt’s estimation, “would ruin the beauty of the location.” He went on, “Once you put it up, you can’t take it back.”

Besides concerns about the tower of blades peeking through the rolling tree line, some opponents said they worried that the soft whoosh whoosh whoosh of the generator would disturb the stillness. Others, from their Internet research, also pointed to cases in which ice was flung from blades, and to incidents of fires, bird mishaps and decreased property values, all of which Mr. Hirsch crumples into a ball as “ridiculous.”

“Their fears, in my estimation, are baloney,” Mr. Hirsch, 78, said in an interview. “Behind it, I believe, is the pollution of jealousy and the pollution of stupidity.”

Mr. Hirsch continued: “This one annoys the hell out of me because these people are making up stories that don’t have any relevance to anything in this world. You can’t hear it, and it can’t harm you, and you can’t see it, and if you did it would be beautiful.”

Mr. Hirsch’s proposed tower would cost him about $132,000 after state grants and federal tax credits, and after the generator started running, he said, he would cut his electricity bill to zero.

Wind power, like solar power, has long been seen as a path toward energy independence and cleaner air, but its growth has been modest. By the end of the year, according to theAmerican Wind Energy Association, wind will most likely account for 4 percent of the energy in the United States, with enough capacity to power some 15 million homes. “We’re climbing,” said Lindsay North, an association spokeswoman.

But turbines are not universally adored, and some proposals, like the 130-turbine Cape Wind project off the coast of Cape Cod, have run into significant community opposition. Mr. Hirsch’s turbine would be one of the first in the area, but opponents say it could set a precedent that could turn into a wind farm.

“We didn’t move here expecting to live underneath this giant turbine,” said Tiffany Gillman, 34, who helped organize the petition drive and lives a little more than a mile from Mr. Hirsch. “I think until studies can be done, sometimes we think something is a great idea, and then when we do it, we’re like, ‘Oops.’ ”

Ms. Gillman moved from New Paltz, N.Y., into a small red cabin with a pond here about 11 years ago. She and her husband have since built a home, and turned an abandoned field into an orchard. They grow apples, peaches and pears that they make into cider and pies. “Our everything, our heart and soul, is in this place,” she said. They also have a 2-year-old son.

“I just think of him,” said Ms. Gillman, her voice halted by tears, “and I think about us being up there in that orchard, and those blades spinning, and this thing coming out of the landscape for the rest of our lives now. It feels like everything that we worked for, and everything we sacrificed for, is at risk.”

The wind tower would be 63 feet wide at its propeller and 177 feet tall at the three blades’ maximum height, and would give off sound projected at 43 decibels, “which is just four decibels over the sound of wind,” said Sherret Chase, owner of Chase Wind, the contractor lined up to install the turbine. “Normal hearing won’t detect the difference, and that’s at 100 yards,” Mr. Chase said. “The closest house is about 500 yards away.”

“There are misinformed or intentionally uninformed people who just want to obstruct anything new or different,” Mr. Chase said, “and I got a village of them there in Denning.”

The Ulster County Planning Board is scheduled to review the project next month, followed by the town zoning board of appeals. Mark Boncek, chairman of the zoning board, said that over the last month he had investigated sightlines and decibel readings, and had been reviewing the opponents’ other concerns. “I can’t disallow their concerns,” Mr. Boncek said. But he added, “I will tell you, as far as I can see on the maps, that some of the people carrying on, they will never see or hear the thing — like most of them. So what do you say?”

“I feel for the man,” Mr. Boncek said of Mr. Hirsch, “and I also feel for the people.”

Mr. Hirsch moved into a small cabin here decades ago and slowly made his way up the mountain. “And spent every dime I had to do it,” he said, “To me, it’s my life.”

He recently returned to New York City from Los Angeles, where he performed on stage in Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys” with his former “Taxi” co-star Danny DeVito. He said he spent “a major amount” of his time at his home in Denning, though residents said they did not see him around much, spotting him on rare occasions at the local bait shop, farmers market or general store.

Some opponents said they wished he had come to them personally, door to door, to help them better understand his plan.

“This is an extraordinary type of construction for this type of area,” said Barry Schaeffer, 71, who lives less than a mile from Mr. Hirsch, on Mountain View Road, where he likes to sit on the porch and watch the deer and the bears.

“I am all for alternative energy,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “Noise is my primary concern.”

He wondered why Mr. Hirsch could not find what Mr. Schaeffer thought would be a less intrusive alternative.

“It’s only one generator,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “He’s not saving the planet.”


3 thoughts on “Judd Hirsch’s Wind-Power Plan Unsettles Catskill Town

  1. I can`t stand those socialite pukes like this judd hirsch. They think that what they say goes and they usually don`t give a crap at all about what any one else thinks….. I wouldn`t want one of those things any where near where Iive and I really wouldn`t want to live around some one like that.

  2. If he had done some homework he’d found out that solar was way more efficient and for the amount he spends on the big fan he could have a top of the line solar system…money left over….friendly neighbors, and not be remembered as a 1st rate jerk or liberal jack-ass

  3. The key to this is not to just go one route in any type of energy independence.
    You need a combo of wind, solar and geothermal if you can do it and you don’t need that huge turbine to do this. Changing the landscape for everyone else around is being just selfish even if it is his land. So for the money he is spending he could do this and get himself setup with a large hydrogen generator to power his converted natural gas cars taking him totally off the grid.
    Hows that for money well spent?

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