A number of other north country political officials are joining the chorus of those concerned about the impact of further wind power projects on Fort Drum. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who supported a Senate bill that would block wind projects that are within 40 miles of an airfield or airbase, reiterated her stance that Fort Drum’s integrity should take priority over wind projects. “The facts are clear — wind projects do have an impact on the technology that Fort Drum and our soldiers depend on,” Sen. Ritchie said, adding that the post should be protected in the event of a potential round of base closings.
POTSDAM – Lt. Gov. Kathy C. Hochul addressed the North Country Regional Economic Development Council at SUNY Potsdam Thursday, encouraging business in the north country and commenting on the council’s concerns about wind turbines near Fort Drum.
Lt. Gov. Hochul began by commending the work of the council, which had approved 21 priority projects as candidates for state funding earlier in the day
“I hope you do what I get to do very often, which is to go out and see what is occurring in these communities as a result of your efforts,” said Lt. Gov. Hochul. “I’m here this week encouraging you to stay with what you’re doing, because I have to say … nothing is more important than making sure we have business here, we have opportunities here.”
One member of the council then told the lieutenant governor that, during the executive session earlier in the day, the council unanimously supported keeping Fort Drum a regional priority when siting wind turbine projects.
“We are aggressive in protecting our bases,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said. “It’s the jobs, it’s the impact on the community and also … it’s protecting our nation’s defense.”
Lt. Gov. Hochul then reiterated that any industrial wind turbine projects had to go through a siting committee, which is obligated to coordinate with the Department of Defense.
When asked about industrial wind turbine projects elsewhere in the north country, Lt. Gov. Hochul said addressing community needs was important.
“We’re committed to clean energy and reducing our reliance on outside fossil fuels, but we’re also very sensitive to the needs of the communities, and we’ll always strike the right balance,” she said.
A GROWING CHORUS
A number of other north country political officials are joining the chorus of those concerned about the impact of further wind power projects on Fort Drum.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who supported a Senate bill that would block wind projects that are within 40 miles of an airfield or airbase, reiterated her stance that Fort Drum’s integrity should take priority over wind projects.
“The facts are clear – wind projects do have an impact on the technology that Fort Drum and our soldiers depend on,” Sen. Ritchie said, adding that the post should be protected in the event of a potential round of base closings.
Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said he is listening to concerns from local officials on both sides of the issue.
“While we have had successes with wind-power projects in the past, we must ensure that these projects do not endanger the lives of the men and women training for our armed forces,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “I am actively listening and engaging with multiple parties to ensure that we come to a resolution that makes sense for all who are involved.”
The comments come on the heels of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization’s recent statement that it is opposing the development of eight industrial wind turbine projects near Fort Drum because of the radar interference they would cause.
Post officials have told the Times the turbines can affect military and weather radar, creating a potential “black hole” of visibility and producing false weather data.
The FDRLO said the projects in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties represent about 400 new turbines in the post’s airspace, “surrounding the post on virtually all sides, and most significantly, right within Fort Drum’s main flight paths.” The proposed turbines are planned to stand at about 600 feet, about 200 feet taller than existing turbines at Maple Ridge and Wolfe Island.
State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, did not respond to requests for comment.
Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, said that he and the board are currently discussing the issue with Fort Drum officials, and there are plans to introduce a resolution to address the concerns.
While the resolution is still in development, Mr. Gray said it could include language that says the county will not enter a PILOT agreement for a wind project if it jeopardizes Fort Drum operations.
The resolution could come before the board’s Finance and Rules Committee toward the end of the month.
Last year, the board instituted a policy that requires alternative energy projects with a 25-megawatt or greater output to pay the county an amount equal to full taxation regardless of whether PILOT agreement among taxing jurisdictions is in place.
STEFANIK WEIGHS IN
Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, expressed concerns about the turbines in a letter sent to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley.
“Military readiness today, relevance tomorrow, and the safety of our service members is paramount when evaluating and approving the location of these projects,” she said in the letter.
And last week, Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, said she was exploring legislation to bar wind projects from state subsidies if they interfere with Fort Drum operations.
Fort Drum’s direct economic impact was measured by the post at $1.18 billion in 2016, while the FDRLO has argued the impact is closer to $1.63 billion when factoring in indirect growth.
Also factoring into the discussion is the Fort Drum Joint Land Use Study, administered by the Development Authority of the North Country. Among the research points is energy development, which includes wind turbines.
U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also have both said they will look into the issue to address Fort Drum’s concerns.
Sen. Schumer has said that there needs to be a balance between protecting the integrity of Fort Drum while keeping the area open to energy alternatives.
During her visit, Lt. Gov. Hochul also met with a number of women leaders at SUNY Potsdam, including President Kristin Esterberg, Sandra Cruz, president of the Student Government Organization, and Joan Chambers, superintendent of Potsdam Central School District.
“I think it’s inspiring,” said Mrs. Esterberg. “(It’s) just a special group of folks.”
The lieutenant governor later spoke at SUNY Canton about women’s suffrage, to mark 100 years of women’s right to vote in New York, and visited the Johnson Lumber Expansion Project.
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