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Wolfe Island Wind Towers

August 22, 2009

Northern New York is obsessed with wind energy.

During the past 3-4 years, Lewis County farmers leased sections of their land to energy corporations, who constructed a series of wind towers on spaces in between their pastures.  Last year the Associated Press ran a story, “Windmills Split Town and Family,” about a local man who suggests that the towers are an abomination.  According to windmill detractors, this renewable energy resource damages the Lewis County skyline, makes haunting noises at night as they turn slowly in the breeze, and ruins the small-town family based community that holds Lewis County together.  All of this should make us ask, is wind energy sustainable?  In particular, do wind towers integrate natural systems with human patterns in such a way that honors continuity, place-making, and existing social structures?

That question seems to have resurfaced this week, when longtime Watertown Daily Times Managing Editor Bob Gorman wrote a half-assed piece about the imposition of wind towers on the Watertown skyline.  The column itself doesn’t warrant much attention because it’s so clumsily written, but I want to focus on it because it is an important example of why rural America’s perception of what is “natural” and beneficial for our continued living on this planet matters.

A view of Watertown from the outer-Washington Street hill.  NNY locals appear nervous about changes in the landscape.  Photo by Colleen White

Even if you’ve read through Gorman’s emission, you’ll need some extra context (which he fails to provide).  This context is particularly important if you’re not from the north country.  First, let’s start with the picture that is the grist for Gorman’s mill.  It’s a view of the Watertown skyline.  The tallest building, the State Office Building, only looks so imposing because the photograph is taken from the top of a hill to the south of town.

Gorman’s article really doesn’t say anything.  It implies that we should be startled and angry about the fact that we can see wind towers from Canada in the distance.  It’s main point is that the wind energy issue in Upstate New York “isn’t one that should be decided by as few people as possible.”  Or, more directly, wind energy is something that should be settled democratically, since it “affects” everyone.  This seems like another instance of people in NNY being frustrated about their changinging environment, specifically, their “compromised” vista.

I’m not sure what Gorman’s problem is.  The towers are located on an island that belongs to Canada.  If anything, they should be a reminder that our northern neighbors are being proactive about creating sustainable solutions to our energy crisis, while here in the United States, people waffle over whether the technology is efficient.

If the problem is environmental change, perhaps Gorman should examine the impact of rapid development on Arsenal Street and outer-Washington Street.  Watertown is propped up on an artifical economy that hinges on the 10th Mountain Division’s continued build-up and deployment.  Perhaps the increased houses and buildings will soon be abandoned.

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