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"Golden Crescent" epicenter of wind farm battles

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This week, Iberdrola Renewables revealed plans to build 75 wind turbines in the St. Lawrence County town of Hammond. The windmills would be 66 feet taller than those on the Tug Hill Plateau. Many would be visible from the St. Lawrence River.

From Hammond upriver to Clayton, Cape Vincent, and around the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario, developers want to build hundreds of windmills. One plan for a wind farm on Galloo Island already has approval of the Jefferson County legislature.

The New York Power Authority is in on the "wind rush," too. NYPA wants to install at least 120 megawatts of wind power in the waters of Lakes Ontario and Erie. Local residents refer to the eastern Lake Ontario region as "The Golden Crescent." Critics of the wind farm plans say windmills will scare away the tourists and anglers who drive the local economy. David Sommerstein reports.

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Earlier this month, the Jefferson County legislature approved a payment in lieu of taxes plan, or PILOT, for Upstate NY Wind to erect 84 wind turbines on Galloo Island, just of the shore of eastern lake Ontario.

We researched it and listened to the people who were pro-wind development and anti-wind development and we've had four different meetings.

Ken Blankenbush chairs the county legislature.  He's says if there's one place in Jefferson County that's appropriate for industrial-scale wind, it's Galloo Island.

It's off the shores.  It's in Lake Ontario.  Eight miles out and there isn't anyone living on Galloo Island.

The PILOT for the project promises a windfall for old farming towns with few sources of economic development - 2 million dollars a year, tied to inflation and the cost of electricity, plus a 3 million community development fund.

As far as we know and as far as I can tell that is the richest PILOT in the state of New York right now.

But in a sign of the deep divisions that have characterized wind power across the North Country, the PILOT passed by a razor-thin 8 to 7 margin.

Even Ken Blankenbush balks at the other wind farm proposals in Jefferson County.  If all the plans from Galloo Island up through Cape Vincent, Clayton, and Hammond were to become reality, coupled with 86 windmills already in operation across the border on Wolfe Island, Jefferson and western St. Lawrence County would be home to more than 400 turbines.  They'd be visible to the boaters and anglers of eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands.

This area has remained in a very unspoiled state for many, many years.

Rob Aliasso fears that's about to change.  He co-chairs a collection of anti-wind groups called the Coalition to Preserve the Golden Crescent and the Thousand Islands Region.

Where wind power allies see clean energy free of fossil fuels and economic development, Aliasso's group fears noisy clutter marring a beautiful landscape, a threat to prime bird habitat, and a drag on property values and tourism.

Most people believe we're a bunch of wealthy landowners just trying to protect our view.  Certainly, the view and the environmental side of it is one thing, but it's the economic side also.  We have a lot of marina owners, campground owners, people that rely on seasonal industries to maintain their livelihood and their customers have essentially told them they will not come back to this area and be a recreational tourist.

The wind farm wars have torn apart places like Cape Vincent and Hammond.  They've tipped local elections.

Even so, the pro- and anti-forces may have found a common foe - the state of New York.  The New York Power Authority wants to broker construction on dozens of wind turbines in the shallows of Lake Ontario or Lake Erie.  Richie Kessel is NYPA's CEO.

We;'re looking to meet Governor Paterson's goal of 45% of our electricity from renewable energy and energy efficiency in the next five years or so.  And, y'know, I'm a big believer and NYPA is a big believer and leader in renewable energy technologies.

Anti-wind groups in the Golden Crescent have vowed to fight the off-shore wind projects.  Jefferson County chairman Ken Blankenbush says the idea's a non-starter.

Now we're looking at a different project of windmills which are in the water along the shorelines, which our board of legislators are totally against in Jefferson County.

Blankenbush says one of the problems with the NYPA plan is local towns wouldn't have input.  NYPA's Kessel says off-shore wind won't be forced on anyone.

If a community doesn't want it, then it's not going to be done there.  They're going to lose the benefits and the jobs and everything that comes with it, that's up to them.

NYPA is accepting proposals for offshore wind projects in New York's Great Lakes until June.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein.

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