Negative spin builds against lake turbines

Publisher’s notebook

OBSERVER Photo These fliers are being distributed in Chautauqua and Erie counties warning lake advocates of the potential turbines.

Right before the summer season officially began along the lakefront, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed made a stop at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club in Dunkirk. Though the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was a key part of his agenda, he also wanted feedback from the charterboat captains who were in attendance on that June Friday afternoon.

One of the greatest worries for these navigators in the future: the potential of turbines being placed in Lake Erie.

“It’d be nice to see the government step in and say, ‘No. These are federal waters. You’re not putting them up there,” said Gary Katta, Kongo Charters captain, during the informal June 15 gathering.

Within the last 50 days, two local governing bodies have been taking notice. It all started with a proposal by a wind company to place a monitor at the Dunkirk Lighthouse in May.

After the city organization rejected the offer, both the Chautauqua County and Erie County Legislatures approved resolutions opposing windmills on the Great Lake the entities border.

OBSERVER Photo Rich Davenport of the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board calls the turbine effort a “folly.”

Within the last 10 days, even U.S. Rep. Chris Collins has strongly stated his disdain.

Reed’s position? According to a recent conference call on July 30, he seems almost disinterested in the topic. “I would defer to the local government to either approve or reject,” he said.

Two members of Reed’s staff, as well as a contingent of government officials from Chautauqua and Erie counties, were in attendance for Wednesday’s annual Lake Erie Experience. With light winds and a mix of sun and clouds, it was a perfect morning to be out on the waters. Even the fish cooperated as participants reeled in plenty of walleye, lake trout and some bass.

As the anglers shared congratulations on their successful outing in the Con Club, a different tone emerged during the afternoon session. Of major significance is the real worry about turbines possibly being sited the near the shorelines.

Rich Davenport, an Erie County Fisheries advisory board member, reminded those in attendance of the dark days of Lake Erie when in the 1970s it was termed a “dead” lake. Overcoming industrial mistakes from the past took decades to repair through stringent environmental efforts.

“We didn’t have the knowledge that we have today, but we had to do something,” Davenport said of the practice of dumping industrial waste into the waters. He then pointed out that Lake Erie makes up 21% of the world’s fresh water.

Windmills may promote a form of green energy, but those towers could have long-lasting effects on the waters and the fish that live there. “Healthy life in a fresh-water fishery equals healthy fresh water,” he said. “There is nothing more important on planet Earth than fresh water to all of us.”

Impacts from the machines in the waters are not yet fully understood, but recent examples indicate manmade structures change natural habits. When the bridge over Chautauqua Lake was installed, it changed the flow of the current and the dynamics of the fishery there.

That bridge near Bemus Point, for the most part, is embraced by motorists. It would be extremely hard to get that same type of consensus on the turbines. Once the towers are in place, especially in Arkwright, angst over the structures seemed to grow.

As noted in this space last week, wind energy is barely noticeable on the New York Independent Supply Operators web site. Even in times of very high demand, wind energy is only 1 percent of the total electricity being produced on the grid.

Adding turbines to Lake Erie will do nothing to increase that output today — or even in the future. Wind as a commodity is inconsistent and unreliable. It is also highly subsidized, by you the rate payer and through government incentives.

Why would this state, which promotes all of our natural wonders through its I Love New York campaign, attempt to even put this lake and its aquatic life at risk through this project? Davenport calls the whole effort a “folly.”

“Sound travels stronger, faster and farther on water than it will on land,” he said, suggesting the vibration of the blades will impact the lake’s ecosystem. “So now what are you going to do with that life? You’re going to displace those fish anywhere you put these. … Every single fish species … is going to be impacted.

Davenport mentioned the aftermath of the turbines being placed in areas near the Atlantic Ocean. There are no fish where those structures stand.

“That isn’t going to be positive,” he said. “You can take that to the bank.”

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

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