Municipalities in the Thousand Islands region, determined to protect waterfront landscapes from unwanted tall structures such as wind turbines and exhaust stacks, have received a draft report that’s needed to designate the area as a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance.
Released this month, the Thousand Islands Regional Assessment final draft report was prepared over the past two years by consultants from Dodson & Flinker of Ashfield, Mass., for the state Department of State, which has reviewed and tentatively approved the 68-page report.
Eight municipalities are listed in the report as participants of the SASS project, but there are now seven because the town of Orleans decided to opt out earlier this month, according to Hammond Town Supervisor Ronald W. Bertram, lead agent for the project.
In addition to Hammond, which spearheaded the project, participating municipalities are the town and village of Clayton, town and village of Cape Vincent, town of Alexandria and village of Morristown. The village of Alexandria Bay and town of Morristown – originally participants – decided to opt out of the project this year, Mr. Bertram said.
An informational public meeting on the draft report will be held April 13 by the Department of State. The meeting is tentatively set to take place in the town of Cape Vincent, but its location officially has not been decided, Mr. Bertram said.
That meeting will trigger a 60-day public-comment period on the report, during which municipalities will have the chance to opt out of the effort if they choose to do so. After final revisions are made to the report, the state will conduct a public hearing to consider adopting the final version.
The SASS designation is intended to protect waterfront land from development that could jeopardize its scenic character and to promote tourism in the region, according to the report. Developers who propose projects that require state or federal permits, or grant funding, would need to complete a visual-impact assessment of projects that would be reviewed by the Department of State. That process could affect the fate of grant applications and permits needed for developers to break ground on projects.
The report states that more than 52 miles of the St. Lawrence River and 14 miles of tributary creeks were surveyed by consultants, and 109 separate visual landscapes were evaluated. Ten areas totaling 156 square miles have been proposed for SASS designation under the New York State Coastal Management Program.
Mr. Bertram said the SASS designation would give the Thousand Islands region “bragging rights” to promote tourism and give municipalities leverage to be awarded grant funding for tourism-related projects. It would also prevent large industrial projects in the region, such as wind farms, that could be detrimental to its scenic character, he said.
“I feel very strongly about the Thousand Islands and would like to promote it,” he said. “I think the north country is going to continue to be all about tourism, and that’s going to be our economy. I don’t think we’re going to attract big businesses back in here. And, secondly, it’s very hard to get grants here, and this regional project would help us apply for grants, especially with something that’s regional in nature … I didn’t go looking for this project just to stop wind-turbine development, but personally I don’t think there should be wind turbines by the river.”
Among other things, the report underscores how the designation would prevent wind turbines and large industrial buildings from being built within the district because they’d have a negative effect on the scenic character of the landscape, according to results from an online visual survey of more than 600 area residents last year. The online survey was completed on scenic1000islands.com, a regional website launched by Interactive Media Consulting, Saratoga Springs, for the SASS project. Survey respondents were asked to rank the scenic value of photographs.
Results of the survey showed that wind farms on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River have had “significant visual impacts on the region,” according to the report. Turbine images ranked among the least scenic images in the survey.
“Consequently, massive industrial and infrastructure projects should not be built within the SASS district or within its surrounding viewshed,” the report states. “There are presently no techniques to mitigate the visual impacts of these structures because they are so tall, massive and frequently in motion.”
Dodson & Flinker was hired in 2013 by the town of Hammond, which received a $75,000 matching grant from the Department of State in 2012 to fund the two-year study. The $75,000 grant was matched by in-kind services for the project provided on a volunteer basis by stakeholders, Mr. Bertram said.
The draft report is available online at wdt.me/draft-report.
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