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Somerset planners OK wind power developer's request for towers

After a judge ordered them to vote, the Somerset Planning Board members Thursday approved a developer's request to erect two more temporary meteorological towers for a wind power project in the town.

State Supreme Court Justice Daniel J. Furlong's order said Apex Clean Energy was entitled to a prompt vote on the two temporary towers, carrying instruments to gather weather information in the area where it wants to erect as many as 70 wind turbines. Apex sued when the board didn't vote for two months after a public hearing ended last August.

The town has been fighting the Virginia company's Lighthouse Wind project, after a survey of property owners showed as many as two-thirds of them were opposed, depending on how the question was phrased.

Fears of damage to health and property values from the turbines, which could be as tall as 620 feet, aren't shared by everyone in the town. Numerous property owners – including one Planning Board member who abstained Thursday – have signed leases with Lighthouse Wind to host the turbines on their property at a fee of $15,000 for each site that is eventually used. More than 9,000 acres are under contract.

One of the key factors in Furlong's ruling was that the Planning Board approved a previous Apex weather tower on Lower Lake Road in 2014. The judge also ruled that the two new towers – each proposed to be 197 feet high, on Lake and West Somerset roads – wouldn't produce enough impact to justify making the company complete one of the state's long environmental impact forms.

"After well over a year of working on these applications in full cooperation with the landowners who will host these towers in Somerset, we’re pleased to have a final decision. We look forward to putting up the met towers and gathering additional meteorological data," Apex spokeswoman Cat Strumlauf said.

Another judge last year rejected a lawsuit filed by Save Ontario Shores, a citizen group opposing the project. SOS sued the Town of Yates, the Orleans County town east of Somerset where part of Lighthouse Wind is to be built, attempting to overturn a permit for a meteorological tower there.

Yates Supervisor James J. Simon said recently that the Town Board granted the permit for a weather tower, and expects to consider a request from Apex for another in June, after the town's moratorium on such construction expires.

Apex has yet to file a final application with the state Department of Public Service, specifying the locations and heights for the proposed turbines. Strumlauf said that won't happen until late this year.

She said Apex, its opponents and other participants still are working on legal stipulations for the topics to be covered in pre-application studies, and that process, which began early last year, is taking longer than expected.

A siting board comprising mostly state officials with only two local members will rule on the company's eventual application.


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