HENDERSON – Despite a packed hall elevating the temperature by several degrees, a public information session followed by a public hearing on the Galloo Island wind project remained mostly calm Tuesday at the Henderson fire hall’s community room.
At least 150 people occupied chairs, stood along walls and leaned on furniture as Public Service Board administrative law judge Ashley Moreno moderated the more than two-hour early session, which started at 2 p.m., and was followed by a 6 p.m. session.
Judge Moreno and various representatives of Apex Clean Energy, the developers who want to erect 30 wind towers on Galloo Island, town of Hounsfield, led the informational session, discussing mainly the process of review before the state siting board that is reviewing the company’s application.
On May 8, the company sought a ruling that deemed complete its application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need under Public Service Law Article 10. That allowed the review to move forward, and public sessions in the project area are required under the law.
A few speakers asked questions of Apex before the public hearing resumed, most of them pointed and clearly in opposition to the project.
Rick Wiley Sr., Cape Vincent, asked about bird-kill projections for the project, which Apex environmental specialist Dave Phillips said were taken into consideration in the application. Mr. Wiley disputed an assertion that the project would kill few bald eagles, citing anecdotal evidence from the Canadian Wolf Island wind project across the St. Lawrence from Cape Vincent.
Ronald Ditch, a Henderson fishing guide, pursued the bird-kill issue, asking if the National Wildlife Federation were involved in project review.
He got a big laugh from the crowd when he said he had some experience with federal protection of waterfowl; Mr. Ditch was arrested several years ago after he participated in an unauthorized mass killing of cormorants.
“This area is a major (migratory bird) flyway, and Galloo Island is dead center of the middle of it,” Mr. Ditch said.
Judge Moreno said that the bird mortality issue would be thoroughly reviewed during the Article 10 process.
Apex representative Gregory Liberman said the project is to produce 109 megawatts of power through 30 turbines. He told the audience that after the construction portion of the project is complete, only 0.03 acres of wetlands will remain disturbed.
During the intermission between the informational session and the hearing, Mr. Liberman deferred to another Apex employee when asked the planned tower height. That employee said he “thought” it was going to be 575 feet, exclusive of blade height. To achieve over 3 megawatts per tower, the blades are likely to be in the range of 160 feet.
By comparison, Maple Ridge tower height, including blade length, is 360 feet.
While the public hearing portion of the meeting was largely civil, the applause meter seemed to indicate the room was definitely more against the project than for it. Several speakers in favor of the project got tepid applause, while the opposition was robustly greeted.
In favor of the project at the 3 p.m. session was a representation of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, an employee of Maple Ridge Wind Farm and Hounsfield Supervisor Timothy Scee.
John T. O’Driscoll, business manager of IBEW Local 910, said that the region should be embracing projects that provide employment to local residents. He cited a dearth of building projects in Jefferson County.
“This project is critical for the skilled trades workforce,” he told the siting board representatives. “We need this to hire the apprentices that will eventually be our members as older workers retire out.”
Mr. O’Driscoll said he has spoken to Fort Drum officials, and they assured him that the Galloo Island project would not interfere with the post’s aircraft or weather radar.
Mr. Scee also spoke in favor of the project, noting that the Town Council unanimously endorsed the project. He cited economic benefits from construction, and from an anticipated payment-in-lieu-of taxes agreement that would boost town revenues.
He also suggested that a town of Henderson sponsored study of land values must have not contained the information they desired, which brought some howls from the crowd and a statement from the back of the room, “It’s on our website!”
The study was completed by Clarkson University School of Business, Potsdam, and Nanos Research of Ottawa, Canada. The Times has printed stories with the study’s results, going back to at least 2016.
William J. Burke, Lowville, cited the salubrious effects of the Maple Ridge project, the largest in the state. He said the municipalities hosting towers have all benefitted financially, the property owners with leases (he is one) benefitted financially, and local businesses have benefitted as well.
He also said there have been “absolutely no health problems” attributed to the windmills, and said that property values have increased.
Henderson officials, citing the Clarkson study, have said they fear a $40 million loss in assessed value from declining waterfront property values.
Many residents, however, took a different view of the project. While Hounsfield officials cheer the project, Sackets Harbor village officials have a slightly different perspective.
Watertown Attorney James Burrows, representing the village, noted that village officials recently had his firm write a letter to the PSC accusing Apex of failing to provide full information on its plans to use property within the village as a staging and transportation area. That lack of information was a factor in the recent approval of a new boat launch and dock at Madison Barracks Marina, the letter claimed.
Judge Moreno assured Mr. Burrows that ancillary uses such as the marina would be taken into account in the review process.
Other speakers against the project included Elaine Scott, Kathy Dillon, Karen Wylie, Ray Melfi and Brooks McAndrews.
Ms. Scott decried the lack of serious archaeological studies of the area, noting that items already found in the vicinity of the project date back 15,000 years, and there is some evidence some artifacts on islands near Galloo may be as old as 40,000 years.
“We run the risk of history lost for generations to come,” she said.
Mrs. Wylie said she had been told that Apex was offering free meals and transportation to the hearings if people would support the project, saying to hoots of “we heard that, too”, “If that is so, I have serious ethical concerns.”
Briggs McAndrews spoke, among other things, to the financial aspects of the proposal, urging all the taxing entities to reject the company’s likely PILOT request, limiting any such agreement to five years, starting at 50 percent of assessed value and declining by 10 percent of value each year until the project reached full assessment in year six.
He also suggested any PILOT agreement contain a guarantee that the company would not file tax certiorari cases against the town for the first 26 years. He also suggested an escrow amount that would increase over time to assure proper decommissioning of the project and “restore Galloo Island to the state it was in before the project was built.”
After Tuesday night’s hearing, written public statements can be submitted to the PSC. They should refer to Case No. 15-F-0327, and can be filed electronically at http://wdt.me/Galloocomments. Judge Moreno requested that they be filed by Oct. 15.
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