For nearly 200 years, the Dunkirk Lighthouse has protected Lake Erie, and last week, board members continued to protect this valuable asset and its surrounding community. In an overwhelming majority, members voted against the installation of a wind monitoring station on the lighthouse’s property, a proposal that was introduced by a representative from Diamond Offshore Wind at the board meeting on May 15.
Wind monitoring proposal
Tanjia Maynard of Diamond Offshore Wind presented board members with an informational packet that explained the purpose and function of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to measure wind speeds at multiple elevations.
According to Maynard, several locations were identified along the coast of Lake Erie, one of which was the Dunkirk Lighthouse. In order to measure wind speeds, LiDAR, a remote sensing method, uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure aerosols and dust particles in the air. This data is reported back to the wind company for use in determining whether or not wind speeds are strong enough to produce energy via offshore wind turbines.
The LiDAR is approximately eight feet by eight feet and would be delivered by trailer to the northwest corner of the lighthouse property. Fencing would be placed around the equipment for a total area of approximately 20 feet by 20 feet. The unit would be serviced every three months by the LiDAR contractor, who would perform any necessary maintenance.
“We are offering to compensate the Lighthouse and Veterans Museum $500 per month for the leased area during LiDAR deployment,” the packet states on the last page. “…The grounds will be returned to their current condition when the unit is demobilized from the property. We will maintain our own insurance and name the Lighthouse and Veterans Museum as additional insured.”
Board members’ reactions
According to former lighthouse board member George Burns of Fredonia, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander, Maynard’s presentation felt patronizing. Burns said Maynard made several points during her presentation, including the idea that the project would probably never come to fruition (suggesting little risk on the part of the lighthouse board), while also warning that there are less than 50 years’ worth of fossil fuel left in the world. She insinuated that if the lighthouse didn’t agree to a wind monitoring station, they would find another location that would install one and accept the money, said Burns.
Burns noted that she said “nobody likes Governor Cuomo” in reference to the governor’s push for alternative energy. “That may be true in Chautauqua County,” Burns said. “But it’s not something that one should be stating to an audience she really knows nothing about. Perhaps this lady thought she was addressing a group of country bumpkins and telling us what she thought would appeal to our ‘simple interests.’”
Mary Burns Deas, another board member, was both worried and frustrated with the presentation. “These companies continue to lurk around searching for victims to dump on; most likely perceiving us as poorer areas willing to sell out and without much voice,” she said.
Deas, a local teacher, has a strong connection to the lighthouse and its history in the region. She and Burns, her brother, have served on the lighthouse board for several years, and Deas is a volunteer tour guide. “Our grandfather, George Burns Sr., became the groundskeeper when the lighthouse became unmanned due to automation,” she explained. “It was in the 1960s when the five of us kids would go down there to play while he worked, and my brothers mowed.”
Deas is pleased with the results of the board vote, which took place after Maynard left the meeting. “People had such strong feelings that a few stated they would resign from the board if it passed, including me,” she told the OBSERVER. “Despite really needing money, we did the honorable thing by taking the high road – continuing to proudly protect the lake as the lighthouse has done since 1826 and thinking of the whole affected region, unlike those who put up the monster structures on the hillside (in Arkwright) that we all have to look at every day.”
Burns, an avid hiker and backpacker who often visits the hills in Arkwright, has noted the loud noise of the turbines there, which he said can be heard a half mile away and noted “the significant destruction of habitat during their construction.” His service in the Coast Guard, which focused on environmental matters, has made him particularly sensitive to possible threats to the region. Burns expressed concern for the migratory birds that travel along Lake Erie, as well as the recent return of the once-dwindling bald eagle population, should turbines be installed in Lake Erie.
“Sea birds are naturally attracted to structures offshore and along the coast,” he said. “The presence of wind turbines will lure many birds to their deaths.”
He continued, “It is a fact that the many commercial ships that transit the lake enroute to Welland Canal or Buffalo are prohibited from discharging any bulk cargo residues of coal, limestone, taconite pellets or grain into the lake…During the construction of the foundations of offshore wind turbines, great quantities of concrete, incidental construction residue and general deck runoff will be discharged into the lake. This will have a profound impact on the environment by itself.”
Burns’ service in the Coast Guard dealt with prevention, preparedness and response to oil and chemical spills, along with ship casualties. A graduate of Maine Maritime Academy and licensed mariner since 1979, Burns was in charge of mariner licensing in the Great Lakes and served on Navy and merchant ships as a navigating deck officer for many years.
“The establishment of large structures on the lake will create a navigational hazard,” he stated. “The Lake Carriers Association and the Canadians have established shipping lanes that have been in existence for well over 100 years. Placing wind turbines in proximity to these shipping lanes creates a hazard that could result in significant environmental damage in the event of a ship collision or grounding.” Burns also noted the distraction and confusion that may be caused by the turbines’ blinking lights, which make it difficult to judge distance.
Keeping the lighthouse mission alive
While $500 per month was a tempting offer, especially for a non-profit, Burns and Deas believe that the board made the right decision. “We all feel like we will move forward with other plans, such as raising money for needs, including a large pavilion for weddings and other events, which also would bring in revenue to keep the museum in operation,” Deas stated. “The lighthouse is a unique historic site in this region. We’d love for people to support it by coming for tours, which pays the bills! There are only two lighthouses left on Lake Erie and few lighthouses left on the Great Lakes with a Fresnel Lens, which was imported from Paris in 1857 and is now worth well over a million dollars today.”
The lighthouse is a popular site for weddings, class reunions, bus trips and field trips. This week, Fredonia fifth grade students enjoyed a field trip to the lighthouse and learned about the history of the site, including the historical significance of Lake Erie, like its many shipwrecks, involvement in the War of 1812 and connection to the Erie Canal.
Board President Dave Briska is a familiar face at the lighthouse, where he volunteers every day and helped lead the students’ tours this week. Briska and Deas, along with other volunteers, lead tours throughout the summer months and tailor them to visitors’ specific interests. Deas noted that the upstairs bedrooms of the keeper’s house are each devoted to a branch of the military and include thousands of unique artifacts, many of which have been donated by local residents over the years. In fact, the lighthouse, as a museum, was founded by a group of veterans in 1984.
Throughout the summer, sunset yoga will take place, and there are multiple public and private ghost tours on the schedule, too. Briska is looking forward to Monday’s Memorial Day service, which takes place at 8:45 a.m.; all are welcome to attend.
Although the ghost tours bring in money, Burns strongly objects to them and resigned from the board last week over the issue. “I resigned over the ghost tours and disrespectful demeanor of these groups and their activity in a place that is supposed to be honoring veterans,” he told the OBSERVER.
For more information about the Dunkirk Lighthouse, including history, tours, and wedding/event availability, visit www.dunkirklighthouse.com. The lighthouse is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through June, and hours are extended to 4 p.m. in July and August. Guided tours include a climb of the lighthouse’s spiral stairs to the upper observation level, a walk through the restored 1800 lighthouse keeper’s home and the museums, as well as a tour of the lighthouse grounds and Coast Guard building. Field trips and bus tours are available for discounted rates. Call 366-5050 to schedule a tour, volunteer or donate to the non-profit organization.
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