The Suffolk County Water Authority hasn’t found any scientific documentation on abnormal fire risks associated with wind turbines, its chief environmental officer Carrie Meek Gallagher said this week.
The authority plans to build a 100-kilowatt wind turbine at its pumping station near Laurel Lake in Laurel, but neighbors are adamantly opposed to the proposal, citing, in part, the heightened risk of fire if the turbine is installed in the middle of a wooded area.
The utility is waiting until the public comment period ends on Friday to decide on whether to proceed.
“It’s still too early to tell,” said Ms. Gallagher. “We’re still at the same place.”
Gayle Marriner-Smith, who lives near the turbine site, is one of the neighbors who has helped collect hundreds of signatures on a petition against the project.
Ms. Marriner-Smith said that as a lifelong environmentalist, she’s convinced the Laurel land is not an appropriate location for a wind turbine. She and other neighbors voiced their concerns during the water authority’s monthly meeting Monday night.
“It is hard for us environmentalists to say no to something that is green technology,” she said. “I want to find an alternative to fossil fuel. I have been wanting this for decades. But my belief system has been questioned.”
Ms. Marriner-Smith said her primary concern is siting the 120-foot tower in a nature preserve.
“There’s the potential for impact to wildlife, migratory birds. We have so many bats in here,” she said. “We don’t have the capability to fight an electrical fire in a forest.”
Ms. Gallagher said, however, that she’s not convinced of the fire threat.
“We haven’t found anything in the scientific documentation or research done by the Department of Energy or the National Academy of Sciences,” she said, adding that she couldn’t find evidence of greater fire risks with wind turbines than with any other electric generation facility.
She added that the water authority is still hashing out the project’s costs with LIPA and getting clarifications from bidders on the project. If the authority moves ahead, work would not start before late spring or early summer.
Ms. Marriner-Smith said she was told by water authority board members at Monday’s meeting that they need the turbine to cover the substantial cost of pumping water in the Southold distribution system.
But according to the authority’s own estimates, it will take between 18 and 25 years to realize those savings.
“It did not seem like a fiscally sound business plan,” said Ms. Marriner-Smith.
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