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Migratory birds are latest issue in Somerset wind power controversy

SOMERSET – Some people think wind turbines kill or confuse migratory birds, but the developer of a wind farm in Somerset thinks those arguments are, well, for the birds.

The American Bird Conservancy has listed Lighthouse Wind, the project proposed near the Lake Ontario shoreline among the nation’s 10 worst-sited wind projects because its potential effect on birds. The group’s report claimed that the project would interfere with the travel patterns of migratory songbirds and raptors, which “concentrate within six miles of the shoreline during spring and fall of each year.” The Town of Somerset attempted to bar the project with a law it passed in February. Also, the wind farm would be built “close to breeding habitat for declining grassland birds,” which could be displaced, the conservation group claimed.

Apex Clean Energy of Virginia wants to erect as many as 70 wind turbines, each as much as 620 feet tall counting the length of the propeller blades, in Somerset and the adjoining Orleans County Town of Yates.

The company is studying the project’s effect on birds and bats to evaluate the risk, responded Dave Phillips, Apex director of wildlife and environmental permitting.

“It is a common misconception presented by ABC and others that the mere presence of birds equates to risk,” Phillips said. “Lighthouse Wind will rely on the facts resulting from careful study, as well as input from agencies and stakeholders, rather than prejudicial comments unsupported by fact, such as those presented by ABC.”

Wednesday, the town protested the exclusion of its “avian expert,” Bill Evans of Ithaca, from a meeting of representatives of Apex and environmental agencies to discuss the bird issues.

The meeting was held late Wednesday at the Buffalo office of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, including biologists from the DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Apex spokeswoman Cat Mosley said the meeting was held in accordance with Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines for wind energy and eagle conservation. She said there will be further meetings to discuss studies and their results and “comply with the DEC guidelines for conducting bird and bat studies at commercial wind projects.”

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said the town filed a motion with an administrative law judge at the Public Service Commission, protesting the exclusion and seeking a ruling that the town should be included in future meetings. The town also sought copies of any documents relating to Wednesday’s session.

Engert said the town wouldn’t have known about the meeting if a DEC source hadn’t tipped off Evans on Monday.

“We do not feel Apex is complying with Article 10,” Engert said, referring to the section of the state Public Service Law governing wind power projects. It was added to the law five years ago and places the decision on such projects in the hands of a siting board dominated by state officials instead of local governments.