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Opponents of proposed wind turbines claim conflict of interest by lobbying firm

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Opponents of a proposed wind turbine project along the Lake Ontario shoreline claim the lobbying firm representing the energy company behind that project is also supporting an interest that may be seeking to put the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station out of commission.

Members of Save Ontario Shores (SOS) gathered outside the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base on Monday afternoon. They renewed their opposition to Apex  Clean Energy's plans to erect a series of wind turbines in the Town of Somerset. Again, they suggested that the project poses a threat to the future of the local base.

On Monday, SOS president Pam Atwater suggested that a hint lies in the lobbying firm hired to represent Apex. Cassidy and Associates, based in Washington, D.C., also represents the State of New Jersey in that government's effort to secure large-scale military activities there. 

"We're calling this Cassidygate," said Atwater, who then listed what she described as duties Cassidy and Associates were paid by New Jersey to do on behalf of military installations located there, including lobbying to secure the same mid-air refueling tankers for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst that Niagara Falls recently acquired, maintain a list of chief competitors to New Jersey's military operations and develop a list of missions similar to those at other bases that may be suitable for New Jersey's facilities.

"Are you starting to sense a pattern here? This doesn't pass the smell test," Atwater said. 

But an executive at Cassidy and Associates denies they are using one relationship to benefit another. Senior Vice President Dave Belote spoke with WBFO by telephone and said that as a retired Air Force Colonel, the last thing he would do is undermine a military operation anywhere.

He also told WBFO that Apex has taken many steps to respect the Niagara Falls installation's ongoing work.

"Those who actually fly at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station recognize that Apex has gone over and above to make sure that they protect the military mission, up to and including offering to do night vision compatible lighting on the wind turbines to ensure that a low-level training mission is a possibility decades into the future," Belote said.

Earlier this year, SOS members assembled at the air base to suggest that Apex's plans for a series of wind turbines would interfere with flight patterns in and out of the local military installation. Like Belote, Apex representative Taylor Quarles denied any effort to undermine local military operations.

Quarle told WBFO that the Department of Defense backs Apex's stance as being no threat to local operations.

SOS members aren't buying that. They are also renewing their calls that the Apex project is not wanted in the community where the turbines are eyeballed for construction. But Quarles told WBFO there is interest by some, who have signed up an estimated 10,000 acres for consideration.

"We're really committed to developing a project that's harmonious with the local landowners' use of their property, and brings benefits to not only those who are participating but also to the local communities at large, through substantial yearly payments to the towns, school districts and counties," Quarles said.

Also expressing opposition to the Apex project Monday were Congressman Chris Collins and State Senator Robert Ortt, who shared the opinion that the wind turbine project is being forced upon an unwilling majority in the community by Albany.

"It does nothing for job creation. It does nothing for the communities it's going to be in," Ortt said. "It harms those communities for the expense of progressive interests and a progressive agenda."

Collins said offshore wind power is "not cost competitive at all" and will burden future taxpayers.

"They're relying on our children and our grandchildren to subsidize, through deficits and more deficits, something that is not economically feasible," Collins said. "It just plain shouldn't happen."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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