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This wind blows ill for wilderness

http://timesunion.com

by Fred LeBrun

A highly controversial proposal for 10 giant wind turbines next to the Gore Mountain ski slopes that would be visible from a number of peaks within the Adirondacks got a surprising nudge forward last week.

The Adirondack Park Agency approved the erection of a second 168-foot meteorological tower on the industrial footprint of the former Barton Mines in North Creek to assess wind speeds and directions. Much data already have been collected. Presumably this all leads to a full-fledged project proposal before the APA.

That project by Adirondack Wind Partners will be a doozy if it materializes. Not so much for its size. Ten turbines in a wind farm is a modest proposal. But each would rise 400 feet and together trump the natural world around them, all inside the Adirondack Park.

Which is why this is not only a controversial proposal. It also sets an awful precedent.

The APA has jurisdiction over any tower 40 feet or higher, and the strict guideline the agency has used in the past is “substantial invisibility” when it comes to man-made structures in the park.

That’s what drove the cell tower debate in Fort Ann, for example, over the so-called Frankenpine tower. The 104-foot phony pine tree is an attempt at cobbling “substantial invisibility.” Frankenpine is being erected right now among the real pines, having won APA approval over the spirited objections of the Adirondack Council.

With Frankenpine, “substantial invisibility” is at least arguable.

No such efforts will be made to hide or mask the giant turbines, yet the APA continues to encourage them before there’s a full-fledged proposal from Adirondack Wind Partners that can trigger appropriate debate and response. You can bet there will be plenty of that. This inching along without a complete proposal on the table sends the wrong signal, and can only encourage others to take a long shot at getting wind farms up and spinning on some other Adirondack mountain peaks – before the fundamental argument is settled as to whether they belong there at all.

How many such turbines will it take to compromise the unique natural topography of the Adirondacks?

To my mind, within the Adirondack Park, the answer is one. Because one will inevitably lead to many, and then poof, there goes that delicate illusion of the Adirondack forever wild wilderness. Forever.

“We’re not at all happy with this latest approval,” says Brian Houseal, executive director fo the Adirondack Council. “This whole project shouldn’t get out of the starting gate, yet it seems to be creeping ahead.”

Dave Gibson, executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, concurs. “The Barton Mines wind power proposal calls for highly engineered wind towers and turbine blades on a 3,000-foot mountain summit that would reach heights over 400 feet – or the equivalent of a 40-story urban building.”

The fly in the soup here is the action of the current Adirondack Park Agency, which is admittedly caught in a bind. Wind power is the darling of the alternative energy crowd, including some elements of the environmental community. Politically, Governor Pataki is pushing both alternative energy for the state and economic development for the Adirondacks, and he’s running out of time.

And this is his state agency. At least for the moment.

Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at flebrun@timesunion.com.