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Bellone airs concerns over windmill project

www.newsday.com

BY Jennifer Smith
Newsday Staff Writer

August 31, 2006

The public comment period for the controversial plan to put a wind farm in waters between Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park may have ended. But that hasn’t stopped Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone from publicly criticizing the company that wants to place 40 windmills off the shore of his town.

Yesterday Bellone accused FPL Energy – the Florida-based firm partnering with the Long Island Power Authority on the project – of trying to squeak it through with minimum environmental review.

And he urged Minerals Management Service, the federal agency overseeing the project, to require “rigorous” studies on impacts to ocean and bird life.

“Without a comprehensive environmental analysis, we will take steps to prevent this project from moving forward,” Bellone said at a news conference at Babylon Town Hall.

Minerals Management Service, which took over responsibility for renewable energy projects under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, is still in the early stages of developing criteria for an environmental impact statement based on public comments it received earlier this year, agency spokesman Gary Strasburg said.

“We’re going to make every effort to do what needs to be done, to be sure, that the environment is properly taken care of,” Strasburg said.

Bellone cited several of FPL Energy’s comments submitted in February – including one advocating internal environmental compliance audits instead of using a third party to ensure compliance – as proof of the company’s “lip service” to the environmental review process.

“Minerals Management Service has determined that a full environmental impact statement will be done for this project, and both FPL Energy and LIPA support that,” FPL Energy spokesman Steve Stengel said yesterday. “There seems to be a misnomer that FPL Energy – or LIPA, for that matter – can determine the type of environmental review that will be done.”

LIPA spokesman Michael Lowndes said yesterday that the authority supports a full environmental review of the project.

“During the summer, Long Island set new records for electricity consumption,” Lowndes said. “Long Island can take advantage of this energy resource rather than send its money to big oil or OPEC.”

FPL Energy did not complete a three-year study on the number of birds that pass through the proposed site as requested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bellone said. FPL Energy’s study, which took place over two years, did not use the entire range of radar survey methods recommended by the wildlife service, which could result in a lower count, said Timothy Sullivan, a service biologist.

Bellone also said local environmental groups, blinded by the promise of wind power, had failed to take FPL to task. “This project has gotten a free ride because people are touting the clean energy issue,” Bellone said.

Many of Bellone’s points – such as the need for site-specific studies on avian mortality – had been made years before by members of the environmental community, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“We have always had a concern that the process may not be rigorous enough,” said Esposito, whose group is part of a regional coalition that supports the wind farm. “A lot of what he’s calling for has already been done.”

The proposal

LIPA and partner FPL Energy are seeking to erect

40 turbines about 3 1/3 to 5 miles off the South Shore.

The turbines would rise 400 feet above water and occupy

8 square miles

At peak, turbines would produce

140 megawattsof energy;

LIPA wants the project completed by2 008