“There’s a certain rush to getting thrown into the trenches last-minute and turning an extremely difficult situation, with a lot of conflict amongst local constituencies, in the favor of a client. I think anyone working in this kind of business thrives in situations like that. Certainly we do at Five Corners.”
This was a response by Ben Kelahan, a partner with Five Corners Strategies, to a question on their website regarding his favorite kind of project. (http://fivecornersstrategies.com/a-conversation-with-five-corners-strategies-partner-ben-kelahan/)
Apex Clean Energy has hired Five Corners Strategies, a “grassroots public affairs” company, to help them with the Lighthouse Wind project in the towns of Somerset and Yates. This proposed project would place up to 70 huge industrial wind turbines (up to 620 feet tall) along part of the Niagara Seaway Trail near Lake Ontario. Bo Shuff and Daniel Ahern, two Five Corners employees described as campaign managers, have been in the area attending town board meetings, public hearings and various functions promoting Apex’s interest in the project. (http://fivecornersstrategies.com/bios/)
Kelahan also coauthored an article with Jan Christian Anderson, a Five Corners Strategies vice president, published on April 24, 2014, in North American Windpower, titled “Smart Community Engagement: Twelve Tips Every Wind Developer Should Know.” (http://nawindpower.com/smart-community-engagement-twelve-tips-every-wind-developer-should-know
The last tip is noteworthy: “Stack the deck at public hearings, and plan for it well ahead of time. Make absolutely certain you have more supporters in the room than the opposition and that they are well prepared.”
We saw evidence of this recommendation at the recent hearing in Somerset regarding a revised wind ordinance where dozens of out-of-town union workers showed up in force to support construction of the turbines.
At the end of his article Kelahan states: “When the outcome of a local hearing goes against a developer, the best-case scenario is that the company will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to play catch-up to the opposition and eventually succeed in changing the mind of an entire community. The worst-case scenario is that the developer loses a multi-million-dollar investment because the project never moves beyond a simple conditional use permit hearing.”
Apex knows that the town boards in Somerset and Yates have already passed resolutions opposing this project, along with the Niagara, Orleans and Erie county legislatures. These counties represent 1.3 million people in Western New York. What is Apex prepared to spend in its efforts to “change the mind of an entire community”?
It is a challenge for a true grassroots organization like Save Ontario Shores to match the funds a company like Apex has available for lawyers and consultants. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, SOS is a self-funded, committed group of local residents and property owners that relies on donations of like-minded people. We make no profits from our efforts; we’re trying to protect our community and its environment. We are convinced, as are many others, that this proposed project is improperly sited: too close to people, to Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, to important migratory bird flyways, to a vital lakeside tourist industry. Nothing will change that. We will make sure our voices continue to be heard.
Pamela Atwater is the president of Save Ontario Shores.
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