One of Fort Drum’s biggest assets and a key to its future is the airspace above it, says one’s the post’s strategic planners.
“You’d have to go down to Florida. You’d have to go west of the Mississippi, upwards of Alaska to get what you can right here at Fort Drum.” said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Polk, Fort Drum strategic planner.
In the air traffic control tower at Wheeler-Sack Airfield, radar keeps an eye on all that airspace.
“What you see here is the ASR, our air space radar picture,” said Polk.
But these days it shows more than aircraft. The blue patches are the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in Lewis County and the wind farm on Wolfe Island. Each turbine shows up separately and adds to the radar load.
“The current technology we have can only handle so many targets, so many primary targets at once. And what will happen is, it begins to randomly drop off additional targets,” said Polk.
Drop off additional targets – what does that mean?
That’s an aircraft.
“If we had too many other targets, it could start to potentially drop those off,” said Polk. “You would not see it.”
The radar can be configured to filter out wind turbines, reducing the load. But that creates blind spots.
Any aircraft below 3,000 feet and without a transponder become invisible.
That could be an enemy aircraft, or it could be a civilian aircraft that could interfere with one of the military’s.
“It could be everything from a large flock of geese to a paraglider, but we won’t be able to see it,” said Polk.
Polk says the system can deal with the existing wind farms. But the prospect of more, especially five clustered in the same area, has him worried.
That could create a significant blind spot.
“Much larger. That does give us concern, increasing that blind spot. Air traffic controllers like to know what’s out there,” said Polk.
Another concern is the weather radar station in Montague. Polk showed us an image showing the ghost echo created by wind turbines. He says more would make it worse.
“It may come back that it’s only snowing three to four inches when in reality it may be five or six-plus inches; it’s because of the corrupt data returning to the radar site,” said Polk.
Fort Drum says it is working with wind developers on mitigation strategies, including shorter turbines and the way they are aligned.
We asked if officials would prefer that some of these projects just didn’t happen.
An awkward question for Fort Drum officials to answer. They do not want to be seen as anti-wind.
“Well, we do have concerns and that’s why we’re working directly with those developers,” said Polk.
Fort Drum emphasizes it is in favor of renewable energy, including wind. It just wants a seat at the table as they are developed.
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