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Collins calls wind turbines in Lake Erie 'devastating' to border security

Constructing 50 wind turbines off Lake Erie's New York shoreline would be “devastating” to border security in the region, Rep. Chris Collins said Tuesday.

Collins held a news conference outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices in Grand Island to call attention to a proposal from Diamond Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, to build offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie. The turbines, if constructed, would be an estimated 460 feet tall and extend from Buffalo's Southtowns toward the Pennsylvania line. Those with knowledge of the project said they'd be spaced out roughly every 0.6 mile.

“This is not something to take lightly,” Collins said. “It would put our border at risk.”

The turbines would block the radar used by border security to determine if a vessel is crossing from Canada into the United States, he said.

Customs officials didn’t comment other than to say Collins requested a meeting with Buffalo Sector Border Patrol Chief Eduardo Payan to discuss the proposed wind turbines, according to a Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

Collins, citing an agency white paper, said customs officials are concerned.

“They are confirming the threat is not only real, but it would be devastating to know what’s coming across from Canada into the U.S. because this would be blocking all the way to the Canadian border,” Collins said. “These wind turbines would basically create a blackout area that would be a very large percentage of what we would be able to see all the way to the Canadian shore.”

Collins, who faces federal charges of insider trading, detailed his concerns about the wind turbine proposal during a rare news conference in which he also fielded questions about his ability to get re-elected while under indictment.

State Sen. Christopher Jacobs has also come out in opposition to the project. Jacobs said he met with the border patrol officials, who told him they have invested millions of dollars in high-tech radar systems along the entire coastline to identify illegal activity crossing the U.S. border.

“Officials from Homeland Security confirmed to me that the major shadows cast by these incredibly large structures would make their radar systems useless in that Southtowns coastline,” Jacobs said in a statement. “The frequency of illegal drug smuggling and human trafficking in this corridor is reason enough for me to oppose this wind turbine project.”

The company is known to have reached out to officials in Evans and Dunkirk, but the proposal remains in the planning phase.

Shoreline residents and the local boating community began gathering information and mobilizing against the project late this spring. An opposition group called Citizens Against Turbines in Western New York has 25 members.

“In the beginning, no one would even admit anything was going on,” said Sharen Trembath of Evans.

Then, Diamond Wind officials presented Evans officials with a 54-page glossy booklet, said Trembath, a Lake Erie shoreline activist who attended the meeting.

“We knew they were quite serious about it,” Trembath said. “We’re ripe for the taking here.”

Besides the border concerns, Trembath said turbines could:

  • Disrupt the bass and walleye fishing industry in eastern Lake Erie by creating a prohibited “drop zone” for boaters
  • Interrupt important fish spawning areas and kill birds and bats
  • Disturb toxins interred under lake sediment, polluting drinking water supplies

“If this experiment – and it is an experiment – fails, they have no provision to recover these from the lake,” Trembath said.

Diamond Wind didn’t return calls for comment.

About a decade ago, the New York Power Authority gauged interest in the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project, but the idea didn’t go far after local governments and political pressure from lakeshore residents like Trembath scuttled it.

“I fought that tooth and nail,” Collins said. “This is an ongoing battle we’re having whether it’s up on the Lake Ontario shore or all the way back to 2009 in Lake Erie and we’re going to fight this the same way.”

Collins said his office is working on legislation to prohibit the turbines in Lake Erie, and possibly Great Lakes-wide, where it would impact border security.

“Because of our proximity to Canada, you can’t put them anywhere where they’re talking about putting them,” Collins said. “This (legislation) would basically kill the project.”

It would not be an outright prohibition. Some spots in Lake Erie, farther south and west, could still be eligible for installation of offshore wind turbines.

Opponents fear the proposal could get fast-tracked approval following Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Green New Deal.”

“Our worry is with very little oversight or none, the governor could approve this project, which I think is universally opposed by anyone living on the lakeshore, whether you’re somebody who fishes there or lives there,” Collins said at the news conference.

Cuomo’s plan, which was unveiled in January, called for quadrupling the state’s offshore wind target to 9,000 megawatts by 2035 with aims at reaching 100% renewable energy by 2040.

Earlier this month, Cuomo announced two offshore wind projects off Long Island.

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