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The windmill debate

Sheldon, N.Y., was a quiet town until controversy tore it apart.

That controversy came in the form of a proposal for 86 windmills to be built on private properties throughout the town. Soon after the proposal, you couldn't make it through Sheldon without seeing a bright yellow sign stating "No Wind Turbines" in bold black print. It became evident that a massive controversy was building.

According to the company behind the plan, Invenergy, headquartered in the windy city itself, Chicago, the windmills produce no air pollution and are a reliable and sustainable source of energy, providing enough energy per year for 60,000 New York homes. The same cannot be said for oil, which is obviously diminishing too quickly to sustain us much longer.

Supporters note the benefits to the local economy. Most construction would be done by local companies. New jobs would be needed to manage the windmills as well. It is estimated that the community, including local schools, fire departments and Wyoming County, would receive a total of $773,800 in revenue from windmills their first year in operation. Town Supervisor John Knab supports them for this reason. "I'm hoping to get windmills to take some of the financial burden off taxpayers," he said.

So what's the problem? The citizen-sponsored Web site, Save Upstate New York, states that the windmills present several health issues and will lower property values. It is argued that studies on windmills show the noise they create can lead to neurological problems and difficulties sleeping. "Shadow flicker" is brought up as well. Shadow flicker occurs at sunrise and sunset, when the spinning of the windmills causes a strobe effect. This could lead to migraines and seizures in those with epilepsy and similar diseases.

The biggest issue brought up is ice throws. Ice could form on the windmills and be thrown off, making for a potentially dangerous situation. Windmills could also present problems for wildlife like birds and bats, according to the state Department of Conservation. The windmills might have adverse effects on the four endangered species inhabiting the Sheldon area. Not to mention that at a wind of less than 6 miles per hour, the windmills won't spin. Said Town Councilman Glenn Cramer: "I don't believe they are necessary. I believe they should be consolidated into a wind farm, not mixed in with residential areas. Though if they can't be stopped, I'll work as hard as I can to get the most compensation for them."

In Sheldon, the controversy made quite a stir. It led to the creation of a "Conservative Party," bent on putting a stop to any windmill progress. Conservative party members ran for the Town Board along with the usual Democrats and Republicans.

The process leading up to the approval and building of the first windmill is complex and can take more than two years.

In this small little town's case, more pro windmill people were elected to the board than weren't. Even with that fact, people are still fighting. A pro windmill group recently banded together against the anti-windmill group. Now "We Support Clean, Safe Energy" signs challenge the anti-windmill handiwork of "No Wind Turbines. Sheldon is not the only town that has to deal with this issue. It seems as though many towns throughout Upstate New York will face this issue in the years to come. The only question is: whose side are you on?

Samantha Beglinger is a junior at Attica Central.

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