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Protestors say turbines could pose threat to NF air base

The Lighthouse Wind proposal to install 60 to 70 wind turbines along the Lake Ontario shore could pose a threat to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, opponents to the plan said Wednesday.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York state’s Article 10 Siting Board, three retired US Air Force colonels addressed their concerns over the proposed installation of the wind turbines. The colonels said that could “jeopardize” the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Former vice commander of the 914th Airlift Wing, W. Robin Pfiel, former commander of the 107th Airlift Wing, John J. Higgins and former vice commander of the 107th Airlift Wing, Thomas Keough called the air base a vital component to the nation’s security and a major economic development engine and employer in the Western New York region.

But if the turbines were installed, the base could be in danger of losing its competitive advantage, the letter states. The concern is the turbines would encroach into the “military operating area,” which is airspace designated for military use. That would ultimately compromise the reserve’s position with the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission and could end up costing nearly 3,200 jobs, they said.

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

So to bring attention to that concern, Save Ontario Shores, the group fighting to keep the turbines away from the towns of Somerset and Yates, held a rally Wednesday in front of the air base on Lockport Road in Niagara Falls.

The turbines would likely stand as tall as 620 feet, but there has been talk they could be as tall as 700 feet, which would be equivalent to a 70-story-tall structure, attorney Dennis Vacco said. Vacco is representing Somerset in the matter.

The air base’s airspace is where current C-130 operations maintain a number of low-level training routes; generally 500 feet above ground level. But some are as low as 300 feet above ground level, as well.

The routes start from the air base and continue on a common departure path in a northeasterly direction. On the lake shore, east of Wilson, the individual routes continue with a turn in various directions. Additionally, there is an established high speed route, primarily for fighter aircraft cleared down to 300 feet above ground level.

There’s also concern about the effects on the Air National Guard’s MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft missions. These missions would see aircraft fly to Fort Drum in Jefferson County, using the restricted area over Lake Ontario.

“We are hopeful that the decision makers in Albany will take a step back,” Vacco said.

Apex is required to have permission from the FAA for any structure over 200 feet. So, Apex will present both the FAA and the U.S. Department of Defense with a filing of each turbine’s model and height. Apex will then adjust the turbines if need be, Apex representative Taylor Quarles said.

Details of the turbines’ height and model, as well as an exact number of turbines, have not yet been decided. And they will not be until studies are completed, Apex said.

“The studies required (to prove encroachment) have not been completed yet,” 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.”

Quarles said that he had been in contact with the Niagara Military Affairs Council’s chairman, John Cooper, who indicated that NIMAC is neither for or against the project. But NIMAC is interested in seeing all of the studies.

As of now, Apex is having studies done regarding radar and other aspects. The preliminary scoping statement, a document explaining a project’s scope, was released for public comment on Nov. 23 and the comment period was to run through Wednesday.

The period allowed for municipalities and members of the community to review the 200-page document and make any comments regarding it. However, with the lack of specificity with the statement, the opposition find it difficult to comment effectively, Vacco said.

In an attempt to find more information, Vacco sent out a letter to the New York State Public Service Commission Office asking that the statement be thrown out and to require Apex to submit a second statement with more details. In response, the commission extended the public comment period to Jan. 12, but leaving intact the originally submitted PSS.

What the opposition finds frustrating is the lack of exact information regarding the turbines which causes difficulty in the decision of what studies the Town of Somerset will conduct themselves through intervenor funding, Vacco said.

“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,” said James Hoffman, Somerset resident.