WATERTOWN – As the community looked toward potential development conflicts with Fort Drum, wind turbines kept coming to the forefront.
In Jefferson County, the issue has sparked a coalition among Fort Drum advocates, echoing military concerns about the impact of turbines on aviation and weather radar systems, and residents who oppose turbine projects in the area.
“We don’t want anything to happen to Fort Drum, we love Fort Drum,” said Cindy L. Grant, a Clayton resident who has spoken against the Horse Creek Wind Farm project in the towns of Clayton, Orleans, Brownville and Lyme. “I’d hate to think wind projects encompassing the area could affect Fort Drum.”
In Lewis County, the turbines are seen as a key part of the county economy that officials want to keep in place and grow.
“We’ve benefited from it,” said Terry Thisse, Martinsburg supervisor. “Our towns, our schools, everything.”
Open houses at Watertown High School on Tuesday and Lowville Academy Monday showed a difference in priorities as officials look to plan their next steps after last week’s release of the draft Fort Drum Joint Land Use Study.
The study, facilitated by the Development Authority of the North Country and paid for by the Department of Defense, looks at wind turbines as one of about 20 potential areas of conflict, along with housing, the environment, safety, aviation and noise.
“We’re optimistic the study will better educate local government officials to make better decisions,” said Michelle L. Capone, DANC’s regional development director. “It’ll take a collaborative effort, and different solutions may be needed for different communities.”
The study, which has no regulatory effect, included recommendations for military officials to identify areas where wind turbines could pose a threat, to create a Regional Wind Energy Policy Steering Group to raise awareness of potential projects, to become an “Interested Party” on the state Siting Board and to coordinate with wind developers.
The study also included recommendations on ways the post can better connect with the community on different development priorities, and recommended that the post provide the public maps on topics like low-level flight paths and potential encroachment issues.
“It’s a small part of the overall puzzle, but an important part,” said Bren A. Cox, an associate planner with consulting firm Matrix Design Group, during a presentation on Monday night.
DANC is also working to put its collection of maps online.
Lt. Col. Todd Polk, of the post’s Plans, Analysis and Integration Office, said the post was “pro-development,” and that the study is key for getting ahead of potential issues that could negatively impact the post.
“We’re working all those avenues to find out what is best,” he said.
Military officials told the Times in July that turbines can display as planes on their radar, which could overwhelm their system. Their lone option to lessen that effect is blocking all computer tracking in the area of turbines, creating what officials called a “black hole” for viewing air traffic.
For weather operations, Air Force personnel said turbines can contaminate information and create a secondary layer of phony weather data known as a “ghost echo.”
Stephen N. Bernat, Harrisburg supervisor, said Monday that he was concerned Jefferson County officials would have more say on the turbine issue than communities in Lewis County. As one example of that concern, he pointed to a resolution passed by the Watertown City Council in October opposing wind development near the post.
“It’s not the city of Watertown’s place to comment on business in Lewis County,” he said.
The city’s resolution was matched by one from the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, and groups like the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization voiced concerns turbine projects could negatively affect the post. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said his office will review the impact of turbines on the post.
“I see the potential danger, and it’s something I take very seriously,” he said.
Lewis County legislators have taken a more moderate approach, supporting the possibility of new wind development while addressing interference issues with new technology or other means.
Earlier this week, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush said they thought the post and wind projects could coexist.
“There’s a balance here,” Sen. Griffo said.
Public comments on the study will be taken by DANC through Nov. 27, with a hope of finalizing the study toward the end of the year. Ms. Capone said the process of implementing the study’s recommendations will take place next year.
“This isn’t a report that sits on the shelf,” she said.
More information about the study can be found at http://wdt.me/danc-study.
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