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Fort Drum wary of wind near Wheeler-Sack Airfield

FORT DRUM – Wind power developers looking at Jefferson County don’t have a set distance to avoid the Army installation.

“It would be something we would look at on a case-by-case basis,” Fort Drum spokeswoman Julie A. Cupernall said.

About a month ago, the New York Times published a story detailing the delays or abandonment of 9,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects in the country because of concerns of radar interference raised by the military or the Federal Aviation Administration. Turbines can look like airplanes on radar or cause blackout zones where planes disappear, the article said.

Possible aircraft approach and radar interference led officials at the Army installation to warn the Indian River Central School District that it may not be allowed to have a 350-foot turbine off Route 11. The post gave the district a strobe light to put on the top of the 164-foot meteorological tower used to test wind speed.

“The prospect of a large wind turbine in the general vicinity of the Indian River High School does cause concern for our operations, most notably through potentially significant adverse impacts to both approach procedures and radar coverage at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield,” Ms. Cupernall said in an e-mail. “That being said, Fort Drum does not wish to prevent anyone, Indian River High School included, from exploring the use of alternative energy resources, as we recognize their importance and are, in fact, currently utilizing solar power in our efforts to maximize sustainability.”

Decision-makers on post don’t have any policies or rules for tower setbacks. And, Ms. Cupernall said, the FAA would decide whether towers are far enough away from Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

A spokesman for the FAA said it also doesn’t have set rules on distances from airports. Any builder must file a notice with the FAA for any structure over 201 feet tall.

“During the evaluation, civilian and military radar issues are always examined,” FAA spokesman Jim Peters wrote in an e-mail. “Before filing an application, FAA does not tell a proponent what heights they can obtain for a turbine.”

Instead, each of the eight air traffic divisions considers the filing, then an obstruction evaluation specialist considers the obstruction standards and checks the visual flight rules traffic pattern for the airport, he said.

So far, industrial-scale developers have avoided the area near Fort Drum. The nearest proposed project would be the Horse Creek Wind Farm in Clayton and Orleans, but that project does not now have an active application.

Developer Iberdrola Renewables said Fort Drum may not have been specifically considered, but airfield setbacks are “a pretty common constraint.”

Communications Manager Paul N. Copleman said in an e-mail that the developer studies turbine and airfield locations “as well as the flight paths in and out, which can make for setbacks much larger than three miles.”

Projects planned for farther away don’t necessarily look at Fort Drum.

“We didn’t consider it in the siting,” said James H. Madden, project manager for Cape Vincent Wind Farm, miles from the Army post. “To date, we’re not aware of any issues.”