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Wind power foes fear impact on Falls air base

TOWN OF NIAGARA – Opponents of a planned wind power project on the shores of Lake Ontario asserted Wednesday that the presence of the turbines might be a black mark against the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in any future round of threatened base closures, even though the turbines would be about 25 miles away.

Save Ontario Shores, a citizen group that is fighting Apex Clean Energy, a Virginia company that wants to build as many as 70 wind turbines in the towns of Somerset and Yates, released a letter from three retired colonels from the Falls base saying the lack of “encroachment” in the base’s military operating area was a major positive in preventing the closure of the base when it was placed on a Pentagon hit list twice before.

“If there’s the simplest little hiccup in this base’s operation, why give Washington bureaucrats in the Department of Defense and the Pentagon an easy reason to say, ‘Let’s close this base’?” asked former state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco, who spoke at a news conference in front of the base’s main gate.

Vacco, now with the law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, was retained by the Town of Somerset to fight the wind project.

The SOS group said the retired officers – W. Robin Pfiel, John J. Higgins and Thomas J. Keough (who is a Lockport town councilman) – wrote the letter to the state Public Service Commission at the group’s request. “The construction of these turbines could indeed pose a serious encroachment threat into the MOA (military operating area),” the letter said.

Vacco said the turbines, which he said could be up to 700 feet tall – Apex says the maximum is 620 feet, counting the length of the propellers – would be in the flight path for drones that are expected to fly training missions from the Falls base to Fort Drum in Watertown, after construction of a command center is completed at the Falls. Vacco also said aircraft from the Falls fly low-altitude training missions in the same area.

“There is military air space over Lake Ontario,” said Eric Durr, spokesman for the New York National Guard.

Air base officials are not taking a position on the wind project. “We’re performing the mission as always, and we’re awaiting the outcome of the study,” said Maj. Andrea E. Pitruzzella, the base spokeswoman. “We certainly appreciate across the board that everyone involved is considering our mission.”

D. Taylor Quarles, Apex development manager, said the company is required to submit exact locations of its turbines to the Federal Aviation Administration for a study called an obstruction evaluation. The FAA performs such a study of any structure more than 200 feet tall, regardless of its proximity to an airport or base. “Once again, they’re taking an issue that is going to be studied in depth, and using it as a tactic to scare folks,” Quarles said.

No FAA study has been done yet, Quarles said, because the exact location of the turbines hasn’t been determined. Vacco complained that Apex hasn’t released that information and sought to use that in a motion to have the PSC dismiss Apex’s preliminary scoping statement. Vacco said arguments on that are scheduled Tuesday, the same day the extended public comment period on the document ends.

Quarles said the exact locations should be available “in a couple of months.” The company must include them not only in an FAA filing but in a final application to the PSC for permission to build the wind farm. The final decision is to be made by a state board.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert and Vacco reiterated their complaints Wednesday that the law governing the process takes local authority away.