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Winds delay windmill project

The Steel Winds wind farm project is running behind schedule.

Eight wind turbines -- designed to generate electricity by harnessing the stiff winds off Lake Erie -- were supposed to be up and running on the old Bethlehem Steel plant site in Lackawanna by around Thanksgiving.

But the developers have run into a snag: the wind.

"We love wind," said Steel Winds project manager Mark B. Mitskovski. "But not when you're installing 128,000-pound pieces."

Since construction began in September, heavy wind conditions on the bluffs off the lake where the wind mills are being erected have forced construction on the 400-foot-plus structures to be put on hold several times.

A crane at the site equipped with a wind measuring system has clocked gusts as high as 75 mph over the last couple of months, Mitskovski told The Buffalo News on Tuesday.

"You can't safely construct" under such conditions, he said. "Our primary concern is the safety of our work force."

Tuesday, a full month after the anticipated completion date, motorists on Route 5 can spot the beginnings of the wind farm.

Three towers that will make up the stems of the giant windmills have been partially erected so far. They are about 150 feet tall and will be another 100 feet tall by the time that phase is done. The blades that will turn in the wind measure more than 300 feet in diameter.

The base of a fourth was just completed over the weekend, Mitskovski said.

The developers -- BQ Energy and UPC Wind -- are now hoping to have the project ready by the end of January.

In addition to the wind problems, the developers also have been dealing with the complexities of trucking giant components of the turbines that were made in Tennessee to Western New York.

"The pieces are so large that they require special routes and special escorts and special permits -- through each state," Mitskovski said.

The wind mills that will make up Steel Winds are the largest ever to go up in North America.

From the base to the tip of the blades, they will stand 410 feet tall.

Aside from weather and transportation issues, Mitskovski said, the actual construction has gone smoothly.

"We've been very fortunate," he said.

The 36-acre swath of land, the bluffs at the edge of the Bethlehem Steel property, has turned out to be as sturdy as the developers had hoped.

"The site is exactly as we anticipated," Mitskovski said. He is aiming to finish construction of the first of the windmills by the end of this week.

"If the weather cooperates," he added.


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