The Niagara County Legislature’s special committee on offshore windpower was challenged Tuesday to quickly assess the pros and cons of a local Lake Ontario wind project.
Committee chairman Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville, assigned four “areas of concern” to individual legislators and asked them to bring back their best answers to questions in two weeks.
The committee’s task is to assess whether the county should be for or against possible siting of an up-to-166 turbine wind farm in Lake Ontario, in the Youngstown to Wilson area. That’s one locale specifically referenced by New York Power Authority in its call for proposals to construct a wind farm in Lake Erie and/or Lake Ontario.
The special committee was formed in late July when Burmaster and other lakeside-area legislators wanted the Legislature to withdraw its previously expressed support for a wind farm, which it had given in the belief good jobs for local residents were in the offing. Project detractors, centered mostly around Youngstown, began speculating earlier this summer that a local, offshore wind farm would produce few new jobs for locals but would cost the county’s tourism industries dearly.
The committee is newly expanded, after Legislature Chairman William Ross, C-Wheatfield, objected to Burmaster’s pick of members – all but one of which Ross felt were predisposed to oppose a local wind farm. Last week added a few for “balance”: himself and Kory Schuler, director of government affairs for the Niagara USA Chamber. Ross also kicked Thomas Marks, a Derby-based charter boat captain/wind farm opponent, off the committee and replaced him with two Niagara County residents: Robert Cinelli of Olcott, a charter boat captain and a member of the Niagara County Fisheries Board, and Paul Cannon of Youngstown.
Burmaster on Tuesday detailed the committee’s four areas of concern and assigned subcommittee chairmanships to each. The chairs are to bring back answers to critical questions by Sept. 15, the date of the committee’s next meeting, he said. That’s one week before a NYPA official, Sharon Laudisi, is scheduled to address the Legislature on the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project. Laudisi is coming to Niagara County at the request of legislator and special committee member Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, who has taken credit for getting NYPA to include offshore Niagara County in the GLOW Request For Proposals.
The areas of concern are:
• Economic development, that is, how many construction, manufacturing and post-construction permanent jobs for Niagara County residents would be generated by an offshore Lake Ontario wind farm. Legislator Pete Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, who like Schuler did not attend the Tuesday meeting, is in charge of this subcommittee and will look to staff of the Niagara County Center for Economic Development for help getting estimates. NYPA claims the project would bring jobs to its host community but, despite multiple requests by county officials, won’t supply any numeric proof.
• Environmental effects: What effects would a wind farm have on birds, fish and other wildlife, on the lake bed where pollutants have settled, and on local life quality in terms of noise and visibility of power transmission lines. Dawn Timm, the county’s environmental coordinator, is in charge of this subcommittee.
• Ratepayer benefits: What effects a local wind farm would have on county residents’ electric bills. Kimble is in charge of this subcommittee.
• Community concerns: What effects a wind farm would have on tourism and lake-based recreation, lakeside property values and other miscellaneous issues arising from turbine siting. Legislators David Godfrey, R-Wilson, and John Syracuse, R-Newfane, who joined Burmaster in calling for withdrawal of the county’s previous support for GLOW, are leading this subcommittee.
Godfrey, who’s accepting all correspondence to the committee regarding GLOW, reported he’s received about 100 e-mails from people in the past month. Less than half of the e-mails are from county residents casting “votes” on a local project, he said; the rest are referrals to reading material on the topics of windfarming, a fair number of which are coming from non-local residents.
In all, Godfrey said, he’s received 43 e-mailed votes on the question: Two in favor of a local project and 41 against; about 30 of those against are Niagara County residents.
Burmaster spoke of an e-mail from a Quebec, Canada, resident voting against GLOW. The writer is a historical re-enactor who’s worked at Fort Niagara and says turbines in the background would ruin the integrity of the fort as a historic site.
Cinelli, the Fisheries Board member, speculated an offshore wind farm could cause a large area of Lake Ontario to be ‘off limits” to boaters and fishermen, for security and technical reasons. A key question for the committee is whether GLOW creates more economic activity than it takes away, he said. Fishing’s impact on the local economy, in lodging/hospitality, supplies and other related sales, is about $30 million a year, according to a study done by Niagara University.
NYPA has said five bidders responded to its GLOW Request For Proposals but it won’t say where the bidders have suggested building a wind farm. Like information that would suggest how much local job creation might result, specific proposed sites are being treated as confidential information by the Power Authority at least until the end of this year.
If it turns out none of the bidders is interested in offshore Niagara County, the committee will have made “much ado about nothing,” Kimble said.
“It would be so much easier if NYPA simply released this basic information,” Burmaster said. “(GLOW) has pit county against county, neighbor against neighbor.”
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