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Board of Health member derides state reaction to wind study request

LOCKPORT – A member of the Niagara County Board of Health had harsh words for the state Department of Public Service this week, after reading its response to the board’s request for a full environmental review of the proposed Somerset wind power project.

The department seemed to decline the request, contending that the special review process for wind projects, signed into law about five years ago but never before used, serves much the same purpose.

“Did they actually answer our question?” asked Dr. Donald Lewis, a Lockport veterinarian and board member.

“No,” Board of Health President John Gotowko replied.

A siting board dominated by state agencies will determine whether Apex Clean Energy will be allowed to erect as many as 70 wind turbines in Somerset and the adjoining Orleans County Town of Yates. The project is to generate 201 megawatts of electricity.

Somerset and Yates, along with the Niagara County Legislature, are on record opposing the project. Mail-in surveys sent to every property owner in the two towns showed opposition by 67 percent in Somerset and 65 percent in Yates.

The state letter said the siting board must consider whether a project is needed and whether it can be said that “adverse environmental impacts are minimized or avoided to the maximum extent practicable … using verifiable measures.”

Lewis hoped for a more detailed response to the objections raised at past Board of Health meetings by opponents of the Apex project, called Lighthouse Wind. They include the possible health impacts of noise and vibration from the turbines, as well as the shadow flicker caused by the spinning windmill blades.

Lewis used a common derogatory epithet to describe the contents of the state letter. He continued, “It tells me the Public Service Commission is a scam. They’re supposed to guide us.”

County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton wasn’t so harsh. He noted that the exact number and location of the Apex turbines remains unknown, so a study on impacts in Somerset really couldn’t be done yet. “It’s difficult to respond to no scope of plan,” Stapleton said.

Gotowko said the board won’t weigh in on whether the wind project is a health hazard. “We concluded we’re not going to do anything. It’s out of our depth until we get a study done,” he said. “The Niagara County Legislature voted against it. That should be sufficient.”

Stapleton said the Health Department will keep tabs on the siting board process. “Our job will be to identify the gap between what they do and we want them to do,” he said.