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Niagara Health Board wants state review of 70 wind turbines for Somerset

LOCKPORT – After hearing from Apex Clean Energy staff and consultants about why their project is completely safe, the Niagara County Board of Health voted Thursday to ask Albany for a full environmental review of the giant wind power plan.

Apex, of Charlottesville, Va., wants to erect up to 70 wind turbines in Somerset and the neighboring Orleans County Town of Yates, under the corporate name of Lighthouse Wind LLC.

Opposition has been strong, especially in Somerset, where the Town Board opposes the project. A citizens group, Save Ontario Shores or SOS, opposes the plan and has called a public meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Barker Fire Company hall on Quaker Road to discuss the situation.

Apex filed a preliminary scoping statement with the state Public Service Commission Nov. 23, according to senior development manager Dan Fitzgerald. That’s a first step toward the formal application, expected next June, after the scoping process supplies a list of issues that Apex must study and address in the second document.

Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said the Board of Health believes a full review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act would be preferable and more stringent than one conducted by a state siting board. Fitzgerald disagreed, saying that anything in the environmental review process is also in the regulations governing the siting board.

The Board of Health took no position on the project itself.

Dr. Thomas Hughes supported the letter to the PSC.

“It could be so expensive for them (Apex) that they’ll back off,” he said.

Dr. Jerome Ulatowski II said he didn’t want to make the process too expensive.

“When the coal plants go, we have to have some way to generate electricity,” he said.

The siting board, comprising mostly state agency officials with only two local members, is to determine whether the project is to be approved.

Apex already has signed leases with several landowners in the two towns, who say they are to be paid $15,000 per year for every turbine located on their land. But the exact number, location and height of the turbines won’t be publicly disclosed until the formal application goes to the PSC.

Apex will seek 60 to 70 turbines, with a height of 290 to 390 feet from the ground to the hub of the turbines, Fitzgerald said. The total maximum height including the spinning propeller-like blades would be 500 to 620 feet.

He said an anticipated setback of at least 1,500 feet from “nonparticipating residences” will be part of the plan, along with a nighttime sound level limit of 45 decibels.

Robert D. O’Neal of Epsilon Associates, an Apex consultant, told the board that equipment already mounted in Somerset showed a background noise level of 45 decibels on a night with a calm wind on Sept. 22. “You can have 45 decibels from insects, car pass-bys,” he told reporters.

Rebutting an SOS presentation at the Oct. 22 board meeting, O’Neal and Canadian scientist Christopher Ollson deployed an arsenal of peer-reviewed studies to make their case that noise, vibration and “shadow flicker” from the turbines pose no health threat.

“Annoyance is not a health effect,” Ollson said.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert sat in on Thursday’s meeting and wasn’t convinced. He said the number of studies on the noise topic “clearly indicates that it’s an issue.” He demanded a baseline health study in his town and said Apex “should prove there is no health impact before the turbines go in.”

Ollson said the company doesn’t have to do such a study. “If people are concerned, they should see their local physician,” he said.