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Opponents of proposed western NY wind farm gain unusual allies

WBFO News File Photo

A plan to install up to 70 giant wind turbines in two neighboring communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline has strong opposition from many in those communities. They've gained allies from an unusual source: three retired Air Force colonels who claim the wind turbines would also jeopardize the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Apex Clean Energy is seeking to build the network of wind turbines in the Niagara County town of Somerset and Orleans County town of Yates. The turbines, project opponents contend, would stand nearly 700 feet tall and destroy local wildlife habitats while driving area property values down.

Three officers who previously served in commanding roles at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station claim the proposed sites would interfere with flight patterns in and out of the local military installation. In a letter to state officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and members of the New York State Public Service Commission, retired Cols. W. Robin Pfiel, John J. Higgins and Thomas Keough express concern that any encroachment into the base's zone of operation would give Base Realignment And Closure officials an excuse to consider a shutdown of the base if it reconvenes in the near future.

During a news conference outside the entrance of the base, attorney Dennis Vacco -- who represents the Town of Somerset -- was asked if it might seem absurd to think that tall structures 20 miles away would jeopardize an air base.

"I've got to trust these guys, who are former command officers, who flew military operations," Vacco said.

"The area, even 20 miles from here, which is a hop, skip and a jump for a C-130 or drone or pointy-nosed jet... that area 20 miles from here along the shoreline is in the military operating area of this base."

Opponents of the wind turbine project say some within their community have accepted financial offers from Apex in exchange for permission to build on their land. The respective communities, one opponent admitted, is now sharply divided.

"This has turned families against each other, friends and neighbors against each other, because the few that are greedy enough," said Robert LaPorte, an opponent of the project. "Most of them are very elder, they're only thinking about retirement money, and they won't live to see the damn things be taken down."

Apex recently filed a Preliminary Scoping Statement. Public comments are being accepted by the state PSC until January 12.

Vacco noted that the opinions of the three retired colonels do not represent the opinion of the U.S. military, which has not taken an official position on the matter.