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County committee rejects wind power agreement

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Jefferson County legislators made it clear Tuesday night that they don’t want wind turbines in the waters of Lake Ontario — still.

“I think our biggest concern is trying to be proactive,” said Legislator Barry Ormsby, R-Belleville, at the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Legislators’ Planning and Development Committee. “A good defense is a strong offense.”

The committee recommended a resolution opposing an agreement between 10 federal agencies and several states — including New York — that would make it easier to put wind turbines in Lake Ontario and other Great Lakes.

“The Great Lakes have the potential to provide clean energy from offshore wind and related green jobs in upstate New York,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a released statement.

That potential has been the envy of developers for years, but it’s unpopular among many in Jefferson County. In 2010, Jefferson County legislators rejected a proposal from the New York Power Authority to put wind turbines in the lake’s east basin.

Then and again Tuesday, lawmakers signaled concerns for property values, which could plummet if turbine towers or transmission lines are placed in the Golden Crescent’s scenic vistas. They also argued that the turbines posed an environmental risk if they were to malfunction — putting on its head the arguments from wind power proponents, who say the technology is a clean way to decrease dependence on destructive fossil fuels contributing to global warming.

The agreement between the federal and state administrations, which would expedite the review of wind power projects among the myriad state and federal agencies that oversee the lakes, marked the second instance in two years of more centralized decision making on wind power projects. In 2011, the state passed a bill called Article X, which gives a committee in Albany, and not town boards, the final say on where to put wind turbine projects. The committee will include a representative of the affected community.

Mr. Ormsby said the federal government’s involvement was a troubling overreach.

“Once the federal government steps in, there is no end to their resources,” he said.

The resolution itself is symbolic and won’t affect what’s already been agreed upon — the ink is already dry on the “memorandum of understanding” between the administrations of Gov. Cuomo and President Barack Obama, and Article X is still the law of the land. But legislators said the resolution would send a clear message to the state, federal government and developers: Jefferson County does not want wind turbines in the lake.

“This isn’t a debate on wind power in general,” Mr. Ormsby said.

Indeed, in 2010, the Board of Legislators narrowly approved a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for a company looking to build a wind power project on Galloo Island. That project is still up in the air.

Mr. Ormsby said comparing the Galloo Island project with a hypothetical project in the lake is like comparing “apples and oranges.”

“The two are totally unrelated,” Mr. Ormsby said, because that one was on an island more than six miles from the Lake Ontario shore.

The full board will take up the resolution in May.

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