The bulldozers are rolling again in Cohocton, following a short hiatus late last month.
Construction is under way at the Cohocton and Dutch Hill wind projects, according to UPC public outreach coordinator Rick Towner.
“Right now, we’re only moving topsoil, building access roads, and laying power lines.” Towner said. “(The state Department of Agriculture and Markets) says we can only have five acres of topsoil exposed at one time. As soon as we move it out of the way, we go right through and mulch it.
“As I understand it, the permits are ready to be signed, and (Cohocton Code Enforcement Officer Joe Bob) is waiting to hear back from their engineering firm,” he added. “We could have permits in hand by this afternoon.”
For now, Mortenson Construction is scraping topsoil around the 50 turbine sites, 32 on Lent and Pine hills, 15 on Dutch Hill, and 3 on Brown Hill, eight miles to the south near the project’s connection to the main power grid, but the underlying soil cannot be disturbed.
“All the sites need to be completely level,” said Towner, looking over the site of Turbine 1, which will sit on what now is a sloping field. He added the topsoil is only 1 foot thick in many places on top of the hills.
Each site will have a 200-foot diameter circle with the wind turbine set in the middle, according to Towner. Each of the 420-foot tall turbines, with a component cost around $2.5 million for each unit, will sit on a concrete pad 57-feet across and varying in thickness from 15-feet deep in the center to two feet at the edges.
“The edges will be far enough underground that farmers will still be able to plow,” Towner said, adding only a 16-foot circle of concrete will stick up a foot and a half out of the ground, and, “A five-by-five foot transformer will sit at the base of each tower.”
The transformer will change the voltage of the electricity from the 600 volts coming from the turbines to 34,500 volts for transmission to a substation.
The 26 access roads for the site are currently under construction as well, according to Towner, and several were already completed as of Wednesday afternoon.
As for when the turbines will be operational, there is no official answer.
“People keep asking me how long it takes to build (a turbine),” Towner said. “From my understanding, it takes about a week for the concrete to cure, and another week to build the tower in a best-case scenario. The generator and blades can not be raised in winds over 20 miles per hour, which is a problem since we’re building in a place with as much wind as we could find.”
With the uncertainty, there is no way of knowing when all the turbines will be up and operational, but this year seems unlikely.
Despite several recent setbacks for UPC, construction is still moving as far as it can.
UPC broke ground on the two projects on Sept. 18. Within two days, the Steuben County Highway Department had placed weight limits on several roads that gravel and equipment were being transported to the site on, until the roads were inspected and deemed safe. The highway department later removed the restrictions.
“By the next Thursday, we were rolling again,” Towner said.
The Steuben County Industrial Development Agency did not approve the Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement for UPC last week, which surprised many in the local wind power scene.
“It’s hard for me to believe that they would not approve (the PILOT agreement),” Towner said. “On the flip side, I don’t think (UPC) would continue work if they didn’t think they would get it. Without the tax breaks in the agreement, it would be hard for any company to build here.”
In related news, three members of the Iron Worker’s union were set up outside the UPC office Wednesday.
“It’s not that I’m against wind power, it’s just that they’re bringing in workers from out of state to work on the project,” said iron worker’s union marketing representative Paul Sirianni. “When you go up to the work site, look at the license plates on the vehicles up there.”
“We’re going to be here all weekend,” he added, saying protesting workers will be on hand for the Cohocton Fall Foliage Festival.
Towner said applications are still being accepted by Mortenson and other contractors on the project, and applications can be filled out at the UPC office at 28 Maple Ave. in Cohocton.
The presentation of three Article 78 lawsuits filed on Aug. 31 were changed from Tuesday to Oct. 16.
“It was a mutually-agreed on move,” Towner said. “The plaintiffs were having problems serving several of the respondents.”
The Article 78 lawsuits, filed by members of Cohocton Wind Watch, are aimed at overturning the special-use permits issued to UPC by the Cohocton Planning Board, saying that the permits are illegal on 13 different counts.
By Bob Clark
5 October 2007