WATERTOWN – Local residents spoke out about potential conflicts in the growth of Fort Drum and the civilian community, particularly wind energy development, at a pair of open houses held in Watertown and Lowville.
The Fort Drum Joint Land Use Study is seen as a key part of the discussion about the development of new wind turbines in the community, following statements from Fort Drum that expressed concerns about how turbines affect their radar systems.
“We really are at the forefront of the wind turbine discussion in the country,” said Hartley B. Schweitzer, community planner at the Development Authority of the North Country, which is administering the study.
Participants at sessions Wednesday in Watertown and on Tuesday in Lowville were asked to give their opinions on the significance of 25 compatibility issues around the local Army post. They did so by affixing stickers on wall charts to indicate whether action to address each issue would be very important, important, somewhat important or not important or that they have no opinion on the matter.
In Watertown, clusters of stickers could be found describing wind turbine impacts on flight paths, protecting endangered species, a lack of zoning height limit impact to flights and development encroachment as very important issues.
“It’s fantastic to see outlets like the (Joint Land Use Study) to see the multitude of reasons industrial wind development is inappropriate for the Thousand Islands region,” said Ross Holbrook, a founding member of River Residents Against Turbines, or River RATS.
Clayton resident Gunther A. Schaller argued the post’s concerns about turbines, and the potential risks of hurting Fort Drum, had helped elevate the issue in the minds of state and federal elected officials. Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he saw “the potential danger” in turbine development near the post.
“We’ll go where we get the most feedback,” Mr. Schaller said. “If it gets more attention, why shouldn’t I use the argument?”
Others, like Sherry J. Harmych, town of Pinckney supervisor, noted there are plans for turbines to be built in the town, and expressed concern that restrictions to development could hurt the finances of the town and local school districts.
“We’ve been on the outside looking in, and now there’s a chance, but it’s being jeopardized,” she said.
Mrs. Harmych said she was optimistic there was a technical solution to the issue.
“There has to be a way to work together,” she said.
John D. Peck, a Jefferson County legislator, said he hoped to walk a line of preserving the post while allowing residents to develop their property.
“It’s an important balance to try to maintain,” he said. “You’ve got to be attentive to the needs of our community, and those of our neighbors, Fort Drum.”
The county board passed a resolution earlier this month supporting any state or federal measure that would prevent wind turbines from being constructed within a certain radius of military installations.
The vast majority of the roughly 20 participants at Tuesday’s session in Lowville – which included a number of county and town officials, local representatives of state and federal lawmakers and a couple wind developers – indicated they didn’t consider industrial wind development’s potential impact of flight paths or some local communities’ lack of zoning height restrictions to be of concern. However, most felt it was at least somewhat important to address wind development compatibility with Fort Drum’s mission.
More than half also said turbine compatibility with weather radar either wasn’t a concern or they had no opinion, and most also didn’t have concern about solar development causing glare issues with pilots.
Lewis County participants did say it would be very important to establish formal channels of communication between local communities and Fort Drum and to address potential negative impacts on economic development through land-use restrictions.
The plan, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is to rank issues by importance and develop “a toolbox of strategies to deal with any potential encroachment issues we may see,” Mrs. Schweitzer said.
“We really want that community feedback,” she said. “We are just facilitating the process for the local communities.”
Consulting firm Matrix Design Group is assisting DANC with plan development and can recommend strategies that have been implemented at other military installations around the country, Mrs. Schweitzer said. However, the issue of wind development near a base is fairly unique to this area, she said.
Several Jefferson County municipalities, organizations and state and federal representatives have supported actions to limit or ban new wind development near Fort Drum out of concern over negative impacts on air traffic and weather radar systems. Lewis County legislators have taken a more moderate position on turbines, citing the possibility of allowing some new wind development while addressing interference issues with new technology or other means.
Lewis County Manager Ryan M. Piche said he was pleased with the chance to provide input and hoped there will be more such opportunities after the plan is complete.
“I think if they use this and put it into the report, it’s a great opportunity for the community to weigh in,” he said.
According to a fact sheet handed out at the sessions, “the final document is not an adopted plan, but rather a set of recommended strategies which will require further actions by JLUS participants to be successful.”
For more information about the study, visit http://wdt.me/danc-study.
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