LOWVILLE – While political winds are blowing toward a blanket rejection of new turbine development near Fort Drum, Lewis County officials are advocating for a more moderate, wait-and-see approach.
“Lewis County has more to gain and has more on the line than anyone,” County Manager Ryan M. Piché told legislators at their Oct. 3 meeting.
With the issue “getting hotter and hotter in the north country,” Mr. Piché said he and county attorney Joan E. McNichol drafted a letter to the editor to the Watertown Daily Times detailing the county’s stance “a more reserved approach should be taken rather than a complete ban.”
And legislators by a 10-0 vote approved its submission to the newspaper and, at the suggestion of Legislator Bryan D. Moser, R-Kirschnerville, to all agencies and political leaders who have come out in opposition to new turbine development in the region.
Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, reiterated a July 24 tour gave Fort Drum officials the chance to show how the influx of Tug Hill wind projects could negatively impact air traffic control and weather forecasting, but base officials also expressed the desire not to hinder local economic development efforts. “I don’t believe there’s a member in this room that’s against Fort Drum,” he said.
Legislator Richard E. Chartrand, D-Lowville, a retired civilian engineer at the base, agreed, suggesting no Lewis County legislators would “vote to do something detrimental to Fort Drum” but expressing concern wind opponents were using the issue to advance their cause.
“We’re waiting for Fort Drum’s decision on whether they wish to not have wind towers or they’re OK with it,” added Legislator Lawrence L. Dolhof, R-Lyons Falls.
Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said he thought the intent by base officials was to review results from an ongoing land use study being conducted by the Development Authority of the North Country before making any determination on whether all, or even just selected, wind projects may be detrimental. “We want to keep the options open for Lewis County,” he said. “I think people are throwing the cart before the horse.”
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. However, they insisted rather than directly opposing all wind projects, they wanted to work with developers to reduce potential conflicts.
The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization in early September released a statement opposing the development of eight industrial wind turbine projects near Fort Drum because of the radar interference and concerns on potential negative impact if a new round of base closures ensues.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, is exploring legislation that would prevent wind projects being built near the post from receiving state subsidies, 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, and the Watertown City Council and Jefferson County Legislature last week passed resolutions supporting efforts to block wind development near the base.
Lewis County and its municipalities have seen a major boost from wind power through the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm and its roughly $8 million annual payments, which have been heavily subsidized through the state’s now-defunct Empire Zone program. While new wind projects would only pay a small fraction of that haul, county legislators still see them as a way to further relieve taxpayers in a rural area where development isn’t always prevalent.
“These wind developments allow us to do extra, like the (emergency) radio system,” Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, said. “That really makes a difference for us.”
If state wind subsidies are withheld, he suggested that funding be diverted to counties to help cover the cost of mandated services.
Legislator Craig R. Brennan, R-Deer River, said he wanted to make sure Fort Drum officials were now getting all the necessary information on the local projects, and Ms. McNichol said they have been added as an interested party in the Article 10 process and also get information from the Department of Defense clearinghouse.
Mr. Piché said he believes there is a good line of communication between county and base officials that should allow many issues to be solved at a local level.
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