OSWEGO, NY – A deal struck recently between New York and the Obama Administration to speed up development of offshore wind projects on the Great Lakes has put the issue back into the laps of Oswego County Legislators.
This, along with a proposal to raise the lake levels, has one veteran legislator calling for a unification of the impacted areas.
“It’s the old philosophy, divide and conquer. Well, we’re divided right now. Perhaps it is time for the economic self interests of the county and the affects that these kind of things will have on us to take action, unite and begin to put up a unified front about this,” said Legislator Jack Proud who represents Mexico. The wind turbines would likely be placed in the shallow waters of Mexico Bay.
“That’s where they’re going to put the windmills. They have to put them in certain depths,” agreed Legislator Morris Sorbello. “They’re not going to go out in the 300-foot area and put them in, that’s an automatic.”
Some state and federal officials have pointed out that building windmill farms and transmission facilities could create more green jobs and energy for the state.
However, legislators in Oswego County fear the wind farms would be detrimental to the county’s multi-million dollar fishing and tourism industry.
Jefferson County has already expressed its opposition to this, again, County Administrator Phil Church told the Economic Development and Planning Committee on Tuesday.
Much of the concern, he said, is the lack of power local bodies have regarding where the wind farms are placed.
“Once again, it would be dictated by those outside of our own area as to what they are going to do here,” Sorbello said. “I think that’s a serious situation for not only the people in our county but also our tourism. I personally think we ought to oppose this.”
It would create some short-term jobs as well as a few permanent jobs, he said, adding that there would be environmental issues and impacts on tourism.
Proud recalled the last time such a proposal was put forth it already included dates to commence the project and legislators heard about it “at the 11th hour.” He cautioned his colleagues to be wary of that possibility again in the current plans.
“That appears to be the new MO. You give lip service to local input, you have a fully developed plan with dates that people have to meet in order to register any kind of opposition,” he said. “I’m very concerned that we’re looking at that same kind of thing all over again.”
Coincidentally, at Youth Government Day (planned for the legislature’s May meeting), the youngsters will be engaged in a mock debate regarding this issue, Proud said.
He said he would ensure the students get the information legislators received “so that they have some ammunition to debate both sides of this thing.”
The University of Potsdam has done a study that shows “significant depreciation” of land values around wind farms, according to Dave Turner, director of the county’s Community Development, Tourism and Planning Department.
The area studied was five miles from where the turbines could be viewed from, not just five mile from the site, he explained.
He said he didn’t know if the study included information regarding tourism dollars.
“I do know that fishing is a multi-million dollar part of our economy,” he said.
Turbines on land are required to have a 300-foot radius (stay out zone) and they would likely be larger for those in the water, he said.
“If that became a no fishing zone, and if you have 100 turbines out there, you’re talking about closing down the richest fishing waters on Lake Ontario,” Turner cautioned. “A significant portion of that multi-million dollar fishing industry would be gone.”
“Since I represent the Mexico area, I have grave concerns about the plans for Mexico Bay,” Proud added. “In terms of fishing, in terms of people owning property around the lake – we have kind of a nightmare scenario in the development of big wind farms of this nature.”
He reiterated his call for a unified front to address this issue.
“If we don’t, the people with less clout are going to be the victims. We don’t have the clout at this point in time,” he said.
“I’m not saying there is anything bad about wind power. I’m just saying we have to be very careful about where and what we do with this,” Sorbello said.
The committee agreed to move the issue along to the full legislature for continued discussion.