Retired commanders say tall turbines could jeopardize Niagara Falls base

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 January 2016 at 12:00 am

Provided photo – Dennis Vacco, an attorney helping the Town of Somerset fight a proposed wind turbine project, speaks on Wednesday outside the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Somerset Town Supervisor Dan Engert is to the right of Vacco.

NIAGARA FALLS – Three retired pilots and former high-ranking officials have written a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials, expressing concern about a proposed wind turbine project in the towns of Somerset and Yates, and the impact of tall turbines on the the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

“The future of the NFARS, its current and potential military usefulness, could very well rest on the decision made by your administration on this proposed project,” according to the letter from W. Robin Pfiel, Col. USAF (ret.), John J. Higgins, Col. USAF (ret.) and Thomas Keough, Col. USA (ret.). The trio served in high-ranking capacities as a former commander and vice commander of the 107th Airlift Wing, and the former vice commander of the 914th Airlift Wing.

U.S. Rep. Chris Collins and State Sen. Robert Ortt also have voiced concern that the turbines, which could peak at about 600 feet high, could cause problems for flights and radar from the base in Niagara Falls.

“If the base were to lose its competitive advantage in the area of encroachment, its position with the next BRAC would be seriously compromised,” the trio of commanders/vice commanders wrote in their letter. “A decision to permit the APEX project will create estimated 5-10 full time jobs. If the next BRAC were to recommend and succeed in closing the NFARS the cost will be nearly 3200 jobs!”

The letter was shared with media on Wdnesday when Save Ontario Shores members gathered at the Air Reserve Station with Daniel Engert, Town of Somerset Supervisor, and Dennis Vacco of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, special counsel to the Town of Somerset. Somerset officials are fighting the project, which could include up to 71 turbines.

Apex Clean Energy is the developer for the project. Taylor Quarles, development manager for Apex’s Lighthouse Wind, said the company is confident it can address any concerns with turbines and their impact on the Air Reserve Station.

Apex will detail the size, location and turbine manufacturer of all turbine sites in the next step of its application, expected to be submitted in the summer, Quarles said today. The company has submitted a preliminary scoping statement, which Somerset, Yates and SOS officials say is vague on details.

Quarles said Apex will address any concerns with the Air Reserve Station, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense. Apex will do studies that will be reviewed by the FAA, DOD and other interested parties in the project.

“The studies will have information so reasonable decisions can be made by the regulators,” Quarles said.

In the letter, the former Air Force Pilots identified three areas of concern with the turbines on the Air Reserve Station:

1. “The current C-130 operations maintain a number of low level training routes (generally 500 feet above ground level (AGL), but as low as 300 feet AGL, on some routes. These routes depart NFARS on a common departure path, in a northeasterly direction. In the area of the lake shore, east of Wilson NY, the individual routes commence with a turn in various directions, as per the routes design. Additionally, there is an established high speed route, established primarily for fighter aircraft, that is in the same general area; and it is also cleared down to 300 feet AGL.”

2. “As the Air National Guard in its MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission, it is intended to station MQ-9 aircraft at NFARS. Their mission would have the RPA depart NFARS, proceed to Lake Ontario, and fly up to the Fort Drum ranges, utilizing the existing MOA and restricted area over Lake Ontario. After the mission it would return to back to NFARS and would transit the area of concern in its recovery to NFARS.”

3. “The intended development area is in the flyway of migratory birds. We are concerned that a westerly shift in the flyway, as a result of the wind turbines, could heavily impact flight safety at NFARS.”