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Now the fight’s above ground

It isn’t possible that the directors of the Suffolk County Water Authority would harbor a grudge, is it?

They wouldn’t seek to erect a power-generating windmill, as big as any standing anywhere on the North Fork, in the middle of wooded preserve teeming with wildlife near the shores of a tranquil lake as a “gotcha!” for the town’s unyielding – and ultimately successful – opposition to their cockamamie scheme to spend millions to bring public water to Orient, where the majority of residents were dead set against it?

Would they?

As town officials and the folks in Orient discovered the hard way, when it comes to the SCWA, always expect the unexpected.

Now before anyone starts yelling “nimbyism!” we should point out that wind turbines, even those the size of the authority’s project, are permitted in Southold, in certain areas and under certain circumstances. Given their size, the town requires a minimum of seven acres, limits the height to 120 feet and requires a full 300 feet between the tower and a property line. The authority’s turbine meets all those standards, but it fails to pass the most basic test. Only bona fide agricultural operations can install wind turbines.

The Laurel Lake preserve is definitely not a farm.

Which brings us back to the authority’s standard line, voiced often during the Orient dispute, that as an authority it need not comply with local laws. In the end, a protracted court battle might prove that assertion to be true. But if the authority did anything right in Orient, it was to conclude, wisely, that legalities aside, squaring off against the citizenry is not a smart move.

If there’s more to the project than a callous attempt to stick it to the town, the authority would deserve credit for thinking green – and for trying to tap into a renewable energy resource to offset the need for fossil fuel-generated electricity to power the pumps that keep the water flowing across the North Fork. Still, the project seems grounded in a misunderstanding of the value of open space – a misunderstanding still prevalent in parts of the county’s western end. Just because there are no houses on the land doesn’t mean anything goes.

The authority would be wise to take a good, long look at its turbine project before it spins out of control.