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Opponents of wind turbines say project could threaten Falls air base

TOWN OF NIAGARA – A group fighting the placement of wind turbines along the Lake Ontario shoreline said Wednesday the structures could pose a threat to planes operating out of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The group Save Ontario Shores held a press conference outside the air base Wednesday afternoon to present a letter being sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, and New York state’s Article 10 Siting Board, penned by three former air base leaders addressing concerns that the proposed installation of approximately 70 wind turbines could “jeopardize” the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The letter, written at the request of Save Ontario Shores, is authored by retired Col. W. Robin Pfiel, the former vice commander of the 914th Airlift Wing; retired Col. John J. Higgins, a former commander of the 107th Airlift Wing and retired Col. Thomas Keough, a former vice commander of the 107th Airlift Wing. They say the turbines would negatively impact the air base by:

• Obstructing low-level flights by C-130 planes and fighter aircraft flying out of the air base. The flights are typically at 500 feet but sometimes go as low as 300 feet.

• Obstructing the proposed routes taken by the Air National Guard’s MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft intended to start flying out of the air base. Their mission would have the aircraft fly out to Lake Ontario and then up to the Fort Drum ranges.

• Obstructing the flyway of migratory birds. The retired colonels say they are concerned that a westerly shift in the flyway, as a result of the wind turbines, could heavily impact flight safety at air base.

The letter also states that the turbines could encroach into the Military Operating Area of the air base, ultimately compromising the reserve’s position with the next round of Base Realignment and Closure hearings.

It is likely that the military will be calling for another BRAC as soon as 2017, the colonels said.

The proposed 70 turbines are said to stand as tall as 620 feet, however, there have been rumblings that the turbines may rise as high as 700 feet, which would be equivalent to a 70-story-tall structure, said Dennis Vacco of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP.

“We are hopeful that the decision-makers in Albany will take a step back,” added Vacco, who was retained by the Town of Somerset to oppose the project.

Officials from Apex Clean Energy, the company behind the turbines, countered that details of the turbines’ height as well as an exact number and their specific location have not yet been determined and won’t be until studies following the preliminary scoping statement are completed.

“The studies required (to prove encroachment) have not been completed yet,” Apex representative Taylor Quarles said. “Accusations being made are purely on assumption … in my opinion these acts are an effort to stifle the ability to get information for these studies.”

Through the National FFA, Apex is required to have any structure over 200 feet signed off by the FFA. In doing this, Quarles said Apex will present both the FFA and the Department of Defense with a filing of each turbine’s model and height as well as specific location. Apex will then adjust the siting of the turbines if need be.

Quarles added that he had been in contact with the Niagara Military Affairs Council (NIMAC)’s Chairman John Cooper who indicated that NIMAC is neither for or against the project but is interested in seeing all the studies take place and to make a decision based off of the results.

The preliminary scoping statement was released on Nov. 23 the acceptance of public comment is continuing through Jan. 12.

Vacco said Wednesday that the lack of specificity in the scoping statement is making it difficult to comment on the project effectively. It’s also impacting studies the Town of Somerset will conduct itself through intervenor funding, Vacco said.

Added Somerset resident James Hoffman, “The crux of it is they think they can put these (turbines) in rural areas and no one is going to care and the small portion that do they can just ignore, but that’s not the case.”