CLAYTON – Given the revival of the Horse Creek wind project, some supporters of a defunct effort to pursue a scenic-area designation from the state argue that it should be reconsidered by municipalities as a tool to prevent industrial turbines.
Some proponents of the effort to pursue status as Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance from the state Department of State say the death of the plan could have been part of the motivation for Iberdrola Renewables to revive its long-inactive wind proposal late last year. The SASS designation, which among other things would provide an additional layer of review for industrial wind projects, was overwhelmingly rejected last year by municipalities along the St. Lawrence River.
“I think not having SASS gave (Iberdrola) a little bit more confidence, but I think the biggest movement was from the state and federal renewable tax credits and subsidies,” Justin A. Taylor, former Clayton town supervisor, said on Friday. Though Mr. Taylor supported the SASS effort while he was supervisor, the town board’s other members voted last summer to opt out of the effort. Mr. Taylor was defeated last year in the supervisor race by David Storandt Jr.
“I supported SASS because I thought it would protect the community from an aesthetics perspective, which appears to be one of the major issues of the current proposal for wind power,” he said. “I would encourage municipalities to take another look at this as another tool to provide protection of visual assets not only in the town of Clayton, but in Cape Vincent, Orleans and Alexandria … I think all they would have to do would be to adopt it in the form of a resolution.”
The designation is designed to protect scenic areas by providing a review of waterfront projects under the New York State Coastal Management Program. As part of the SASS effort, consultants and stakeholders developed a Thousand Islands Regional Assessment Project report. It is available at wdt.me/TIRAP.
Ibedrola’s proposed project – up to 250 megawatts – would be mainly in Clayton but is expected to incorporate the towns of Orleans, Brownville and Lyme. The developer, which has private land leases in the four towns, intends to soon begin the Article 10 review process led by the state Public Service Commission for its still-undefined project.
OPPONENTS STAND FIRM
Last year, nearly all of the 10 municipalities originally involved in the multi-year SASS project passed resolutions to confirm they don’t support the effort. Opponents argued the designation would create a layer of unneeded bureaucracy that could hamper economic development. The village and town of Cape Vincent didn’t pass such resolutions because officials learned they weren’t required to do so.
The unexpected revival of Iberdrola’s project doesn’t appear to have changed the mind of SASS opponents, however, who contend the state shouldn’t interfere with how municipalities regulate development. They argue that municipalities can sufficiently approve their own rules for protecting scenic areas from unwanted wind projects.
Orleans voted early last year not to participate in the SASS effort. “State officials told us they could do nothing against wind and could make no promises,” said Kevin R. Rarick, Orleans supervisor. “You might get a negative response from them because (turbines) change the viewshed of the river, but it seems to me like another form of government we don’t need.”
Mr. Rarick said it’s ironic that Mr. Taylor is a SASS supporter. He argued that if the designation were in effect while the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel was being proposed in Clayton, it could have jeopardized the project because of the building’s impact on the viewshed. “But now that the hotel is put in, he thinks it’s a great idea,” Mr. Rarick said.
Alexandria Supervisor Dale D. Hunneyman said the town is expected soon to approve a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan that “will answer just about everything that the SASS program would do” and regulate wind turbines. He noted that several municipalities already have such plans, which safeguard scenic assets.
Michael C. Ringer, an Alexandria Bay resident who owns St. Lawrence Gallery in Clayton, said he believes the business community in the region remains opposed to the SASS designation. He said he does not believe the Department of State would serve as an effective tool to prevent wind projects; instead, he contended, the agency could make constructing homes and businesses along the waterfront more difficult.
“From the White House on down these wind turbines are being pushed in a very big way, so who’s going to say one state organization is going to go against the other?” he said, alluding to the clean energy goals of the PSC.
Iberdrola Renewables – a subsidiary of Maine-based energy company Avangrid – operates as a division of the Spanish power utility Ibedrola S.A., which has the largest renewable asset base in the world.
Interestingly, records show the Spanish company monitored SASS-related efforts last year by visiting a blog called Pandora’s Box of Rocks. Kathryn A. Muschell, who runs the blog, made a post on Oct. 20 that shows a user logged in under the Spanish company’s IP address in March to read SASS-related posts.
“The company visited frequently last year,” Ms. Muschell said. “They read a letter from Michael Ringer opposing SASS and comments to that letter, and things about John Droz and his involvement in killing SASS.”
Mr. Droz, a physicist from Brantingham Lake who is well known for his expertise on regulations to prohibit industrial turbines, worked behind the scenes to organize a campaign against the SASS effort, according to Clifford P. Schneider. Mr. Schneider is a Wellesley Island resident and former Cape Vincent town councilman who was a volunteer coordinator for the SASS project.
“Mr. Droz conducted a strategy session in 2013 attended by officials from Hammond. He was involved in this because of his ideological bent against big government, and he saw SASS as big government coming in,” Mr. Schneider said.
‘BACK IN THE LIMELIGHT’
Mr. Schneider said “there is a great deal of irony” that John Droz Jr. has re-entered the limelight after recently proposing a local law to the Clayton Town Council with restrictions designed to prevent industrial turbines. The law has been pitched as an alternative to Clayton’s proposed turbine ban.
“I would say his effort a year ago to kill SASS was almost an invitation for Iberdrola to come back. He has credentials to oppose industrial wind, but now he’s right back in the game after he played a major role in eliminating a major tool to counter the impacts of industrial wind,” said Mr. Schneider, adding he believes municipalities should reconsider the SASS designation.
Mr. Schneider contended that Mr. Droz has used his expertise to get “back in the limelight, because that’s where he wants to be. If you understand this person, he likes the limelight and wants to be the center of attention.”
Mr. Droz said in an email that there is no proof a SASS designation will have any effect on industrial wind development. “To get a SASS designation, towns will have to give up some precious Home Rule rights in the process. That is simply a horrific price for no proven benefits,” he said. “The proper way to deal with wind energy is for threatened Home-Rule communities to pass a well-written protective wind ordinance.”
Jake R. Tibbles, director of the Thousand Islands Land Trust in Clayton, said “I’m not one to believe in coincidences” when he alluded to how the Iberdrola’s project was revived after the SASS effort failed. The leader of the land conservation organization said he believes municipalities should reconsider the effort.
“The true power of the SASS designation was to have an objective process to evaluate large-scale industrial development within an area that is dependent on its natural and scenic resources,” Mr. Tibbles said. “With the Article 10 process, basically the decision making of local municipalities with respect to the siting of industrial turbines is out of our control.”
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