Water Authority abandons plan to build wind turbine near Laurel Lake

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | The water authority had been planning to install a turbine similar to this one recently installed at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.

The Suffolk County Water Authority has backed away from its plan to build a 100-kilowatt wind turbine near Laurel Lake in Laurel.

In an email to County Legislator Ed Romaine that was circulated to the media Tuesday, authority CEO Jeff Szabo said that the agency’s chairman, Jim Gaughran, “has informed me that he plans to recommend not awarding this contract at tonight’s board meeting based upon the present proposed return on investment.”

The water authority had estimated it would take between 18 and 25 years to recoup its investment in the half-million-dollar turbine.

Water authority spokesman Tim Motz confirmed after the agency’s Tuesday night meeting that the project had been shelved.

The water authority announced plans early this year to build the turbine to help power its pumping station near the lake. The authority spends $25 million on electricity each year to run some 600 wells. But neighbors quickly rallied against the proposal, citing, in part, the possible risk of fire if the turbine were installed in the middle of the woods and the large number of birds in the nature preserve surrounding the lake.

Members of the Laurel Lake Homeowners Association argued that the dirt roads on which most of the residents live are inaccessible by fire trucks. In one case, they said, a fireman had to walk in to extinguish a blaze sparked by a tree falling on live power lines.

The water authority later said it didn’t believe a fire risk existed at the site.

While it had not taken a position, the town had questioned whether the authority needed local approvals to erect the turbine. The SCWA argued that it didn’t.

But at the town’s urging the authority did seek Town Trustee permits to run new water mains out to Orient two years ago. In the wake of intense opposition from the town and Orient residents, the authority eventually dropped that project, which was to be financed largely with federal stimulus funds.

The town code permits wind turbines only at bona fide farming operations.

Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday that he’s glad the water authority listened to residents living near the proposed project.

“I support reliance on alternative and renewable energies and have promoted their use with codes and action,” he said. “The site selection, however, is very important and the proposed location at Laurel Lake seemed to undermine all of the hard work and cooperative efforts of the state, the county and the town in protecting and preserving that scenic and natural treasure. I do believe that the SCWA has shown a real interest in the voices and concerns of the residents in this instance and am grateful to that agency for listening to those concerns.”

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