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APA approves monitoring mast for wind project at Benson Mines

RAY BROOK – The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved Benson Mines’ plan to put up a wind monitoring mast that will help determine whether the company’s property in St. Lawrence County could support a commercial wind farm.

The 164-foot tall meteorological mast will have equipment that can collect wind data from within a 5-mile radius and up to 500 feet above the ground, APA Environmental Program Specialist Leigh Walrath said during a presentation last Thursday to the agency’s Regulatory Programs Committee. The temporary tower will be located on a ridge in an industrial-use area along state Route 3 in the town of Clifton.

Benson Mines Inc. wants to build up to 10 wind turbines on the company’s 3,000-acres, which was home to the world’s largest open iron ore mine pit until the operation shut down in 1978. The data from the meteorological mast will help determine whether the project is feasible.

APA staff conducted a visual impact study of the proposed monitoring mast using balloons and found it was visible in some areas, including the hamlet of Newton Falls and along sections of Route 3, but not in other areas.

Benson Mines had only sought approval to use the monitoring mast for two years, but Walrath said staff felt it would be more practical to let the tower remain up until 2015.

“It’s our experience with another mast previously approved by the agency that technical difficulties and ice storm damage can interfere with the collection of data, so we wanted to give this applicant sufficient time to collect the data they need,” he said.

Commissioners raised several concerns with the proposal.

“After looking at the simulation pictures, I’m sort of puzzled as to how you reached the conclusion that it’s substantially invisible,” said Commissioner Cecil Wray. “It doesn’t look substantially invisible to me.”

Walrath said the tower is visible from the industrial use site but harder to see in other areas.

“Once you get out of that industrial use area and you get into the resource management land use area, you’re so far back from it that it is not readily discernible,” he said. “If you’re looking for it, you’ll probably pick it up. But the typical person driving down the road in that area is not going to see that mast because it’s too far away and the diameter is just too small.”

APA Counsel John Banta also noted that the tower is only a temporary facility.

Agency Chairman Curt Stiles said he wouldn’t support issuing a five-year permit, and proposed amending the permit to two years, which he called “sufficient.”

“I also want to make sure that in the findings of fact we make a statement that nothing in this permit authorizes, endorses or encourages the construction of wind towers on this project site, and that any future application for those kinds of devices will require a new agency permit,” Stiles said.

The committee approved the permit, with those changes, on Thursday, and the full agency board did the same during its meeting on Friday.

While several wind farms have been built to the north and west of the Adirondacks, Benson Mines is only the second company to propose building a commercial wind farm inside the Adirondack Park. Adirondack Wind Partners, which is a joint venture of the Barton Group and Reunion Power, has proposed building up to 10 wind turbines in the town of Johnsburg, near Gore Mountain.

Adirondack Wind Partners has been collecting wind data and recently applied for the third renewal of its permit for a meteorological mast. That project is expected to come before the agency board in the fall, Acting Regulatory Programs Director Holly Kneeshaw told the agency last week.