NIAGARA FALLS — Some elected officials and about 50 members of Save Ontario Shores gathered at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station Monday for a press conference regarding Apex Clean Energy's plan to build up to 70 wind turbines in Somerset and Yates.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) and State Sen. Robert Ortt both spoke out against the plans, citing concerns that it could damage the livelihood of the Air Reserve base in the future.
"Why would we put these wind turbines in Lake Ontario, on our shoreline?" Collins asked, flanked by a group of yellow-clad SOS members. "We don't know what could happen with the base in the future — why take any chances?
Ortt, who sat on the NMAC advisory board for several years as mayor of North Tonawanda, said that Niagara County can't afford to lose the base or any flying missions in the future.
He added that he feels the turbine project is part of an agenda being pushed on the county by New York state government.
"New York state is demanding that we reduce our reliance on traditional energy sources by 2030 — that means we'll need thousands of windmills," Ortt said. "It's going to decimate rural New York."
"They're not putting them in Albany or in Long Island," Ortt added. "They're putting them in rural communities because they're a little poorer."
Pat Atwater, president of Save Ontario Shores, also expressed her concerns about the turbine project's future impact on the air base.
"If these turbines are placed here, this base can pretty much rule out ever having low-flying aircraft, including drones," Atwater said. "Allowing these structures in the base area could cripple the base's ability to attract new missions."
The press conference was on the heels of an announcement from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base in August that it will be switching from low-level flying C-130s to missions to higher-altitude KC-135 Stratotankers by next year.
A top officer of the local Air Force Reserve unit said two weeks ago that that the possible construction of wind turbines in Somerset and Yates will have no impact on operations at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Col. Joseph D. Janik, operations group commander for the 914th Airlift Wing, said by next October, the unit will have new planes whose local flights will take place at far higher altitudes than those of the C-130 transport planes currently based at Niagara Falls.
Apex Clean Energy said in a statement Tuesday that there is no cause to be concerned about future impact on the base. Apex received a letter from the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse stating that the project is unlikely to impact military testing or training in the area.
"We are perplexed about why this topic continues to be raised," Apex said in a statement. "Niagara County residents can be confident there’s no current or projected mission impact on Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which is more than 20 miles from the Lighthouse Wind project area. We trust that our professional national security experts are doing their duty and acting in the best interest of our nation and our armed forces."