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Letter from a Cohocton Son

Dear Bill,

Hello! How are you? I grew up in Cohocton and graduated from Cohocton Central School in 1992 with 17 other kids, 9 of whom started kindergarten with me. Cohocton is a very special Lake Wobegon community. I have been in the U. S. Navy which has shown me the world, and I have traveled the United States and Canada on various hiking expeditions. There are very few places that have the charm that Cohocton does. I may or may not return to Cohocton, but most likely one day I will return to the Western New York area. I would like to pick your brain about the wind power issue that has taken a grip on Cohocton and the surrounding townships. May I?

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Gregory Hodges, and I am a senior at Old Dominion University studying electrical engineering, and I am a veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Power Naval Program where I was a nuclear reactor operator. Thus, I am familiar with electrical power generation concepts and theory. What I am not familiar with is the impact that the different forms of power generation impose on the communities that host its production. And this is where I hope we can have some dialogue.

I am sure you have heard that slogan, "Not in my backyard." No one (for the most part) wants a nuclear reactor, fossil fuel plant, and now a wind turbine in their backyard. But, if you had to have a choice between a nuclear reactor, a coal plant, a dam, or a wind turbine, which would you prefer? There are pros and cons for each one. But, what form of power generation would you be willing to accept in Cohocton?

My answer would be a hydro dam, but we both know that the Cohocton River is not quite large enough to facilitate something like what Nikola Tesla built with George Westinghouse at Niagara Falls. However, that would be my answer if it was possible. And, I am sure that would conjure up some debate over the breeding grounds of the trout, the impact on the agricultural quality of the valley floor, etc. I have an affinity for nuclear power too, but maybe because I am comfortable with it since I served on a submarine where I operated a reactor, and I live near Norfolk Naval Base which has about 20 to 30 nuclear reactors (on submarines and carriers) at any given time concentrated in about 5 square miles and in the vicinity of 2 million people that live within 45 miles radius. But, nuclear power is way more controversial than wind power (in my opinion).

I will conclude my letter with hopes you will get a chance to reply.

Gregory Hodges

Click here to read my reply



for this post

Anonymous Anonymous Says:

Dr. Bill Morehouse,

Remember me telling you how Cohocton has a Lake Wobegon appeal? (I assume that you are familiar with Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show since you did not inquire about it when I had mentioned it in my previous e-mail). Just like in his fictional small town community, Cohocton is much the same where news travels fast. You posted my e-mail to your website, someone told my mother, who told me. It is one of those places where everyone knows your name, and in today's world that is not a bad thing. Anyway, I appreciate your candid response and I would like to respond back since you did ask to know how I felt.

First and foremost, I will have to admit that when I traveled to Western Pennsylvania last year and I saw the wind turbines spinning in the November wind a huge smile came across my face and my heart began to beat faster with excitement. "This is what I want to do, power and energy," I said to myself. I could not get enough of the wind turbines. To me, they were beautiful and spectacular. I am sure you are disagreeing with me on that, and that is fine. I am not here to change your mind or to persuade anyone to take on any point of view. I am more interested in how proposal of this technology is affecting the communities that are debating it.

It is disappointing to know, and as you pointed out, that there has become two divided camps within the Cohocton Valley community. There are those who oppose such a proposal and those who are for the wind turbines. This division is what I am most concerned about, and it fits perfectly into my Engineering Management course discussion today on the role of ethics, politics, and industry have in community projects. I do not know firsthand, but I have heard that this has truly separated the community. I live in Chesapeake, Virginia with a population of 180,000 and no matter what the issue is there will always be people who will find themselves in disagreement over anything even on the question of what is the color of the sky. In an area with such a large population this is to be expected, but in Cohocton I am saddened to see that an issue such as wind turbines can really turn the town upside down. This is the same town that built the "Field of Dreams" sports complex because of people who came together and operated BINGO games, worked countless hours volunteering in the concession stand, or standing at the gates collecting the $1 entry fee to soccer games.

I will repeat my statement that I am not here to try to persuade anyone to take on any position concerning the issue of wind turbines. This issue should be left up to the residents of the community that will be affected by it and that would exclude me from the debate.

However, I would like to throw another question your way to get your opinion, "What makes Cohocton and the surrounding community so wonderful? Is is the rolling hills with the most beautiful fall foliage, the lush fields, and a flowing river filled with trout? Or, is it the people who wave 'hello' to you as you drive down Main Street, or hold the door for you when you walk into the only grocery store, or come out in sub-freezing temperatures to pump your gas?"

Gregory Hodges

Blogger Bill Says:

Dear Gregory,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I've been a Garrison Keillor fan for years and like to listen to Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings whenever I can. As a 2nd generation Norwegian who grew up in a small semirural community in central NY that was a lot like Lake Wobegon, Garrison's stories are very real to me and dear to my heart.

I also understand your visceral response to the turbines you saw in PA last year. Many of us, especially men, are deeply impressed by the power of design and technology. I was awestruck as a young man by the beauty of jet fighter planes and wanted so badly to become an Air Force pilot. These feelings, and the innate desire that so many of us have to do what we can to fix the world's ills with devices of our own making, draw us to find beauty in machines that appear to be functionally elegant, especially if their design is marked by simplicity. And if the contours have just the right smooth curves, our testosterone tells us that they must be very good, indeed.

OK. Now look on our main website at the pictures, provided by UPC Wind, of the proposed Cohocton turbines. Where is the beauty? Somehow when you juxtapose the turbines with human habitation they lose their aesthetic appeal. And when you put them too close to dwellings, all you end up with is a noisy industrial development, stripped of all its "in the nostrils of the eagles" elegance.

I wish we had been there when the "Field of Dreams" sports complex was built. My family and I would have thrown ourselves into the project. My older son played in a soccer tournament there a dozen years back, and I remember marvelling at a community that could pull off such a wonderful youth-oriented project. The Fall Foliage Festival shows the same kind of community spirit that's so characteristic of all that's good about Cohocton. This was what drew us to invest our recreational lives in land on Lent Hill: it was the unique combination of the spirit of the people and the beauty of the land, all of which is being seriously threatened by a project that just doesn't fit the place. It's too big, too intrusive, and too divisive. If it goes through we will have spoiled both the spirit and the natural beauty of the entire town at the same time.

A famous world leader from the mid-20th century (flash quiz: who was he?), when asked to justify the political force he was using to promote his economic plans, was widely quoted as saying, "You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette." Almost forgotten is the response of one of his colleagues who was bold enough to ask, "But where is the omelette?" The last result we want is a lot of broken eggs with only a rotten mess to show for it. I sincerely don't think it's too late for men and women of good will to turn around now, take stock together, recapture what we're on the verge of losing, and build a brighter future for our community. As long as the Lord is in heaven and Cohocton has young sons like you, there's hope. Please keep in touch.

God bless you!
Dr. Bill


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