Two new bills in the state Senate are looking to protect Fort Drum from wind turbine interference.
The first of the two proposals, from state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, would make a representative of the Department of Defense a non-voting member of the state’s Article X siting board. The second would provide some compensation to farmers in select areas to sign wind turbine leases, an effort that has already been pushed at the federal level.
“Fort Drum certainly is the driver in the economy, and we have to be doing everything in our power to protect them and put them on the strongest footing,” Sen. Ritchie said.
She said the urgency comes as there are multiple wind farm proposals that could put hundreds of turbines in the vicinity of the post. Army officials on Tuesday noted that the post had a direct economic impact of $1.222 billion in the 2017 fiscal year.
“There’s no walking it back once they’re built and there’s a problem,” Sen. Ritchie said. “It’s something we need to deal with now.”
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.”
Among those expressing concerns about the impacts of wind turbines are U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization has opposed several wind projects near the post.
Wind turbine interference was a key part of the Development Authority of the North Country’s Joint Land Use Study. Among the study’s suggestions was for the military to become an “Interested Party” on the state Siting Board.
The senator said it was important for the military to have a “seat at the table” for Article X discussions given the importance of the decisions for the post.
“We were assured their comments were taken into consideration, but we wanted to make sure that happened,” Sen. Ritchie said.
She said the military representative’s federal status would prevent them from voting on matters before the board.
The farmland proposal has already been undertaken through the Army Compatible Use Buffer program, which has spent millions of dollars to buy the permanent development rights to about two dozen farms covering about 7,000 acres of land. The program, which has received state funds in previous years, targets sites near military activity, avoiding the development of structures that might affect military training or come too close to activity.
Sen. Ritchie said the state-level program could pursue air rights for properties, helpful when considering the radar impacts of certain developments.
“Hopefully that does two things, it preserves open space, and it gives farmers another revenue source,” Sen. Ritchie said.
Sen. Ritchie said she did not have a cost estimate for her proposal, but that there were funds available in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund that could go toward such an effort.
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