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Wind turbine debate divides Orleans County town

YATES, N.Y. – The winds of change are stirring up debate in the lakeside town of Yates. The proposed Lighthouse Wind energy project is dividing residents, and the impact is felt at the ballot box.

Incumbent town supervisor John Belson won the Republican primary against anti-wind project candidate Jim Simon, but only by seven votes. Some have accused Belson of aligning with the project’s developer, Apex Clean Energy.

“This is a a very controversial topic, a very hot topic,” Belson said. “It’s being looked at critically by both side of this. There have been a lot of accusations that have been made that aren’t actually correct. We don’t really have much control over that. The town board’s just trying to do what’s best for the complete town of Yates.”

Virginia-based Apex is signing leases with local landowners to build dozens of 600-foot-tall wind turbines. The company says the project would generate clean power for more than 50,000 homes, and create revenue for the landowners and for the town.

Opponents say the turbines will lower property value and cause health issues. Save Ontario Shores (SOS) is a group that is resisting the project. The organization’s president, John Riggi, just won the Yates Town Council primary.

“We don’t believe industrial wind turbines and industrial wind turbine placement projects belong near people. Period,” Riggi said. “So we’re getting involved in the political process locally. SOS is getting involved at the state and county level as well.”

Many residents along Lake Ontario are echoing the sentiment, displaying signs opposing the project.

“We don’t want wind turbines,” Yates resident Bob Bane said. “We’ve got a nice, small, quiet, pretty community. We want to leave it that way. We’re not looking forward to it. We’re fighting it. We’ll keep on fighting. Keep putting the message out.”

The fate of the project is now in the hands of the state, which will be conducting a review process in the coming weeks.