BARKER – Business was slow in the village of Barker Thursday, rain washing away enthusiasm for a lunchtime trip to a park-side commercial district home to shops and restaurants.
But at least one shopkeeper was optimistic – Taylor Quarles, who helmed the newest component to Apex Clean Energy’s public outreach effort from a Main Street office.
The simple storefront they’ve occupied since May is taking on an increasing importance as the Lighthouse Wind project’s pre-application process nears a conclusion and a push for more sites capable of housing wind turbines continues.
It’s the landing spot for promotional and process-explaining materials that have been toted to town hall meetings, where consultants working on environmental studies can base their work and a room for one-on-one discussions.
In two rooms framed by paintings of lighthouses, charts detailing the state’s Article X process and maps of a five-mile zone of northwestern Yates and northern Somerset, the project’s development manager stood ready to interact with whoever swung by.
“We’re eager to get the information out to the public,” Quarles said. “The office has worked beyond our hopes. We found a space where we’ve been able to host 25 people with ease, with the information here that fosters discussions.”
Most of the data available on the office’s walls is what Apex has provided at public meetings throughout the spring. Quarles said they’re asking for patience.
The information gap will close tight later this summer, when the company submits a preliminary scoping statement to the state. Some of the data is still being compiled from a meteorological tower installed last month in Yates, as are studies of wetlands, bird and bat populations.
“We’re still in the pre-application stage, and working hard to get our application submitted,” Quarles said. “We’re presenting 41 exhibits as part of the (scoping statement).”
He and Senior Development Manager Dan Fitzgerald have been active in recent months at town hall meetings, a public debate on wind energy and larger gatherings over Apex’s proposed 200-megawatt wind energy project.
Engaging potential partners on a one-to-one level is crucial, as several dozen sites are needed to house the high turbines Apex plans to install.
“We have built a strong network … we have enough land for a wind project,” Quarles said. “But we still need to sign up more landowners (to build) a 200-megawatt project.”
In the meantime, the office has hosted meetings with interested landowners, community groups and a population that wants to know more about the project.
According to a phone survey conducted for Apex, at least a third of the two communities aren’t solidly for or against Lighthouse Wind. Quarles said they want to reach out to them, even if they live outside the target development area.
“We’re still finding that people who are undecided about the project, or that support renewable energy but haven’t decided in this scenario,” Quarles said. “We knew we needed to do more.”
Apex added regular office hours to the Barker storefront after the Independence Day weekend, with sessions posted at the office and on LighthouseWind.com.
The company plans to hire locally for a third office and outreach position to assist Fitzgerald and Quarles in manning the storefront. Their goal is to have office hours four to five days a week once it is fully staffed.
“Being visible on Main Street and in the area will help,” Quarles said. “We hope to have a presence like this all through the process and construction.”
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