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Catskills are wrong place for wind turbines  

When our daughter was in elementary school, she came home one day and told us that she spent her recreation period “walking the playground” because several of her classmates had misbehaved. Our daughter and the majority of the class had not done anything wrong, but they were being punished nevertheless.

I can’t help but think of this incident when it comes to the controversy of bringing wind turbines to the Catskill Mountains.

From my point of view, the Catskills are among the places being singled out for punishment for crimes that have been largely committed by others. From a percentage standpoint, the energy use by people in the Catskills does not even register a blip in the country’s overall consumption. However, if the wind turbine developers are allowed to proceed, the Catskills will be paying an enormous price for our country’s wasteful energy habits.

From an environmental standpoint, wind power creates a huge paradox. It does provide “clean fuel” benefits, but wind turbines also exact a heavy toll on the surrounding area.

I recently traveled through the Carbondale section of Pennsylvania. Wind turbines have been allowed to flourish there. They are not simply part of the landscape. They are the landscape. Pure and simple, the wind turbines clearly, eerily dominate everything in that area.

Anyone who has been through Carbondale is probably thinking, “Well, there’s not much to look at there anyway.” To some extent, that’s true. Carbondale appears to be a very depressed area. The wind developers obviously found it ripe for picking – promise an infusion of cash and start building. The same type of reasoning is now being applied to the Catskills.

As someone who considers himself an environmentalist, I do believe that wind turbines can play an important role in providing clean energy. However, the placement of these 400-foot-tall monstrosities should not be atop the ridges of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. When was the last time you saw a scenic postcard that featured wind turbines?

They’re all you see

Out of all the arguments made against wind turbines, I agree with the most basic premise: Wind turbines absolutely are devastating to the scenery. Real estate agents are among the most vocal opponents of the wind turbine proposals and rightfully so. If wind turbines come into play in the Catskills, prospective homebuyers and current residents will start looking elsewhere for homes.

Our economy is partly tourist-based, but mostly it thrives on vacation homeowners. Much of this market will certainly cease – as will many of the businesses that are supported by our transient visitors. The spiral effect on our economy will be significant.

It’s ironic that some of the same elected officials who continue to rant about New York City’s impact on the region for reservoir use are strangely silent on the wind turbine issue.

Which leads us, of course, to the bottom line: dollars. Wind turbine developers are no different than other businesses that want to exploit an area. They come in and promise jobs and tax benefits. While the numbers sound impressive – allegedly hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to local municipalities – it’s time for our leaders to weigh the costs. As noted above, the price on our local economies will far outweigh the revenue produced.

Do people really think their taxes are going to be reduced by these projects? Perhaps they won’t rise as quickly, but when was the last time anyone’s taxes went down? It’s a pretty safe bet that taxes won’t go down if wind turbines com in either.

If wind turbines are allowed here, the prime beneficiaries will be the handful of corporate executives who are reaping assorted tax breaks from these projects.

Again, where are our local leaders? They are quick to assail New York City for its policies in the watershed, but they seem to be standing quietly by as the Catskills are sold out. Ideally, a county-wide law restricting commercial wind turbines should be enacted.

Furthermore, it appears that some of the members of the town and planning boards making decisions on laws that would place limitations on wind turbines could derive financial benefits if the turbines are allowed. This is inexcusable. Anyone who is considering selling property to the wind turbine companies, or who has similar conflicts of interest with such projects, should immediately remove themselves from decision making on such matters. Period.

The argument has been posed that “no one should be allowed to tell us what we can do with our land.” That’s not true. Our local, state and federeal laws are filled with restrictions on various matters and we live with these laws every day. When it comes to wind turbine restrictions, we need effective laws that make commercial wind turbines a near impossibility to locate here.

Several years ago, the leader of one of the area’s largest businesses related a story that occurred in his hometown. He was on a local board and a large corporation came before the board with plans for a huge development. The promise of job creation and tax dollars was the carrot being waved in front of the decision-makers. The board ultimately went to great lengths to help this company gain approval, even though the sprawling project would destroy a large area of natural beauty.

The project was built and like so many others, the promises made before construction did not live up to their billing.

But the worst part, according to the board member whose vote helped make this development possible, was that, “Every day I drive past there and think that my word helped ruin a really beautiful area forever.”

Those words ring loudly in my ears each time I see the war being waged to bring wind turbines to the Catskill Mountains.

It sounds simplistic, but it really isn’t – destroy these ridges with wind turbines and you’re ruining something truly magnificent.

The folks with conflicts of interest in the decision-making process should admit their ties to these projects and step aside. The remaining lawmakers should realize that they have a huge responsibility – safeguarding the Catskill region. State officials should join in the fight to protect the region as well.

This topic is not about full time vs. part-time residents either. We’re all in this together and preserving the character of the Catskill Mountains should be a common goal. This is a battle that can be won – and it’s up to residents to make their feelings loud and clear to local lawmakers.

The old cliché states “You can’t take it with you.” That’s very true. The fact of the matter is that it’s what you leave behind that’s most important. It’s hard to imagine a natural legacy more precious than the Catskill Mountain landscape. Citizens who agree with this should make their voices heard before it’s too late.

[this editorial appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of the Catskill Mountain News]

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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