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Lighthouse Wind detractors stay committed to fighting turbines by lakeshore

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 December 2015 at 12:00 am

‘My focus will be to kill the project.’ – State Sen. Robert Ortt

Photos by Tom Rivers – State Sen. Robert Ortt told a crowd of about 200 people on Tuesday night that he opposes the Lighthouse Wind Project and will work to defeat it. He thanked the volunteers in Save Ontario Shores for their efforts to educate the community about the project.

BARKER – Residents in Yates and Somerset, where as many as 71 towering wind turbines are proposed by Apex Clean Energy, shouldn’t expect the two towns and local state officials to quietly step aside and allow the controversial project, 200 residents were told during a public meeting on Tuesday at the Barker Fire Hall.

“My focus will be to kill the project,” said State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, “and that’s because I represent you.”

Ortt said residents have overwhelmingly shown opposition to the project, from survey results to their attendance at public meetings.

Dan Engert is the Somerset town supervisor who has come out strongly against the proposed Lighthouse Wind.

“We will defeat this project, there is no question about it in my mind,” Engert told the crowd in Barker.

Somerset Town Supervisor Dan Engert, right, tells residents Somerset will keep up the fight against Lighthouse Wind.

Engert said residents have been “very clear” in opposition to the project.

“I have received very few comments from the community in support of the project,” he said.

Ortt said he worries the project, with about 70 turbines within 3 to 4 miles of the lakeshore, would jeopardize the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The turbines, at about 600 feet, could interfere with flights and radar for the Reserve Station, Ortt said.

“This is about an energy agenda that is being forced on all of us,” Ortt said.

Apex Clean Energy on Nov. 23 submitted the Preliminary Scoping Document that presents Apex studies and responses for environmental issues with noise and vibration; geology, seismology and soils; terrestrial ecology and wetlands; visual impacts; socioeconomic effects; and other issues.

About 200 residents, some wearing T-shirts opposing the wind turbine project, attended the meeting at Barker Fire Hall.

Town officials and residents were initially given until mid-December to respond to document, but that deadline was moved back to Jan. 6.

Dennis Vacco, the former state attorney general, has been hired to the Town of Somerset to fight the turbine plan. Vacco is a partner in the Buffalo law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman.

Vacco said he sees the project as a threat to Air Reserve Station in Niagara Falls, a site that the community has twice rallied to save from being closed.

Vacco told residents on Tuesday he has internal records from state officials expressing concern about Lighthouse Wind on birds because the project is targeted for a major migratory bird path, a critical corridor for raptors and eagles.

Dennis Vacco, a former state attorney general hired by Somerset to fight Lighthouse Wind, holds internal emails from state officials, where he said they express concerns about the turbines on the bird population.

Vacco said he wants to avoid litigation in the fight against the project. However, he said litigation is a “tool” that can be used. Right now, he is “developing ammunition to hold them accountable.” He already has thousands of records from the state using the Freedom of Information Act.

He urged residents to post comments on the Public Service Commission website about the proposal (click here). Vacco said some residents should consider stepping forward in a lawsuit, filing a “nuisance claim” about the turbines, which would be about 600 feet high from the top tip of the blade.

“We’re going to do everything we can to bring this to a halt as cost effective as possible,” Vacco said.

He and Somerset Town Supervisor Dan Engert were critical of Apex for not detailing the turbine locations and how many are planned for the two towns. In its PSC filing, Apex says Lighthouse Wind will be a 201 megawatt project. It will have up to 71 turbines if they are 2.85 MW each or 61 turbines if they are 3.3 MWs, the company said.

Engert said the lack of specifics makes it difficult for the town to prepare a response and rebuttal to the Apex preliminary scoping document. Somerset has asked for 90 days to submit comments and requests for more information about the project, rather than the 45-day window provided by the PSC.

“This is a very significant document that takes time, that takes a coordination of consultants,” Engert said.

Jim Simon, newly elected Yates town supervisor, said the state Siting Board for reviewing the Lighthouse Wind project is stacked with too many state officials and not enough local residents.

Engert said a committee reviewing the Somerset law for wind turbines, enacted in 2006, could make recommendations as soon as Wednesday (Dec. 9) for the town to adopt. The revised Somerset law is the ordinance Apex will need to comply with for the turbine proposal, Engert said.

Save Ontario Shores President John Riggi also addressed the group. He announced he is no longer going to be president of SOS because he is joining the Yates Town Board on Jan. 1. Pamela Atwater will be the new Save Ontario Shores president.

“She will do a fantastic job shepherding us through a successful conclusion,” Riggi said.

Jim Simon was elected the new Yates town supervisor following a write-in campaign. He thanked the supporters and voters in the community.

He praised Engert and the Somerset officials for being aggressive in fighting the turbine plan, through a survey, resolutions, updated laws and hiring Vacco’s law firm.

“We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Town of Somerset,” Simon said.

John Riggi, the president of Save Ontario Shores in the gorup’s first year, addresses the crowd in the Barker Fire Hall.

The state is changing the process for siting large-scale wind turbines, projects with 25-plus megawatts. The state will have a Siting Board with five state officials and two representatives from the local community where a project is planned.

That change, giving the state the majority of the say in the project over local officials, irked all of the speakers during Tuesday’s meeting. Ortt said he will work with local State Assembly members Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, and Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, to have the Siting Board be expanded to at least four local representatives. The state legislators will take up the issue in Albany in January, Ortt said.

The state changed the process for reviewing the projects in legislation known as Article 10.

“It will result in more projects like this being shoved down communities’ throats,” Ortt said.

Simon said the Article 10 changes run against the country’s principles.

“We ought to have a say as residents of the two towns for our future,” Simon said.