Progress not the same to everyone

Photo by Valory Isaacson One of the windmill blades headed for the Arkwright project travels on Interstate 86.

At mile marker 448 heading west on the New York State Thruway, motorists start to get a glimpse of Chautauqua County in the distance. Only one month ago, it was just the rolling hills of Arkwright.

Today, there are landmarks of a different sort dotting those scenic views. Some greet them with cheers. Others have great disdain for the objects.

Nineteen miles from the Dunkirk-Fredonia Exit 59, the wind turbines are in sight. Many thought it would never happen. It is partly the reason the opposition became more vocal the closer construction efforts came.

Last week in this newspaper, our May 15 edition, showed just how volatile the issue could be.

It pictured two Arkwright residents in disagreement over the towers. One for it, one against. In recent days, both have submitted apologies to one another. But the wounds remain — much like those who feared our current president in Election 2016.

Was it really meant to be?

Kellen Ingalls, project manager for EDP Renewables, takes a special pride in this effort. Raised in the Southern Tier — and a graduate of the State University of New York at Fredonia — he grew up watching as businesses moved away from our region.

Today, however, he is part of a massive construction venture that includes 36 turbines that will forever change how we look at those hills. It has created a number of jobs and brought a jolt of spending with those working here to area restaurants and hotels.

“It’s good to see progress after all these years,” Ingall said.

But it continues to spark controversy even though it is a cleaner alternative than what this region had in the past in terms of coal-powered plants at NRG locations in Dunkirk and Tonawanda. Both those facilities are closed, but NRG in the city may be repowering with natural gas in the coming years. Officials from the company have been visiting here recently to evaluate how to possibly move forward with the facility conversion in the coming years.

For now, Arkwright’s long 15-year power battle has ended and the more than 350-foot towers — similar to the height of Buffalo’s City Hall — are quite visible for miles to the east. Erin Bowser, director of project management at EDP, says all the turbines in the 78.4 megawatt undertaking will likely be in place by the end of June.

Currently, the oversized loads of materials are coming piece by piece. “It is pretty regular,” Bowser said. “One full turbine a day takes eight or nine trucks.”

Deliveries also must comply with state regulations. In New York, those deliveries that are coming from a warehouse in Hamburg can happen during the week from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. since the oversized loads are not allowed during the hours school buses are on the road.

On a recent trip to Jamestown, this motorist passed three of those loads in less than 30 minutes. That is an indicator of the urgency to finish before July.

For Ingalls, it’s a mission and a trip down memory lane. “I get to come back to where I went to college and build a project, a renewable energy project,” he said. “That’s really rewarding.”

Opponents, however, see it as a scar on our natural surroundings.

Progress, for better or worse, always has two sides — even in efforts that make great sense. It’s not only with the turbines, it’s that way with the potential relocation of Brooks Memorial Hospital, the Department of Transportation’s roundabout for Routes 20 and 60 as well as the Athenex project.

Arkwright’s changes have happened quickly — and can be seen for miles. Other future developments also will have great impact — on our landscape and way of life.

Stay tuned.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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