When FOX News first came to Lackawanna, N.Y. in September, 2002, America was just beginning to recover from the events of 9/11. After a successful campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, people were starting to discount the possibility that a resurgent al Qaeda could once again strike at the heartland of America. Little did we know, they were already here.
On an otherwise uneventful Friday night in Manhattan, a page went out to a group of us (Yes! Pagers were cutting edge technology back then.) saying that a couple of guys got arrested on some kind of terror charges, and we needed to get to Buffalo for their court appearance. Little did we know that a couple of guys would soon become three, then four, then six men who had traveled to an al Qaeda training camp where they met Usama bin Laden himself. Little did we know that our Friday night page would lead to the biggest terror bust since 9/11, and mark a small, but important victory against America’s enemies.
Hearing that your neighbors traveled halfway around the world to learn how to kill you is pretty bad news, but Lackawanna was already facing more pressing concerns. A year earlier, the last vestige of the Bethlehem Steel Mill, which stopped major operations in 1983, closed its doors for good. The shuttered plant taking with it 20,000 jobs and a third of Lackawanna's population, leaving behind a legacy of pollution and unemployment. At the time, none of the media took much notice of the city's plight. We'd been to worse places, and were too busy trying to find people who went to kindergarten with the terrorists.
Five years later, the war on terror lives on, but instead of UBL, many people now live in fear of CO2. Whatever your feelings about global warming, "green" is quickly becoming the new "shock and awe," and once again FOX News has come to Lackawanna to report on a small victory against the "menace" of the day.
"The Lackawanna Six is the past," Mayor Norman Polanski tells us as he stands upon a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, "the future is about the Lackawanna Eight."
He isn't talking about a new round of terror arrests, but the eight giant windmills rising above what was once the slag pit of the Bethlehem Steel Mill. Known as Steel Winds, the operation is the largest urban wind farm in the United States, and the first to be built on an industrial Brownfield. In this case, a cleaned-up Superfund site that was approved for reuse less than two years ago. It's a new idea that avoids many of the environmental and NIMBY concerns wind farms often face in more pristine locations. Lackawanna welcomed Steel Winds with open arms, and the project went from proposal to operation in just a little over a year.
The wind farm, run by a partnership of UPC Wind Management and BQ Energy, is already capable of producing enough energy to power 75 percent of the city of Lackawanna, although it's fed into the grid for all to use. Plans are in the works to install 12 more of the Liberty Wind Turbines, the largest land-based turbines in the world, which would pump out a total of 50 megawatts of electricity, turning Lackawanna into a per capita energy exporter.
A second-generation employee of the mill before the shutdown, Mayor Polanski has lived through the good and bad days in Lackawanna. "In the heyday this place was alive, there were a lot of people working here," he remembers while pointing out the crumbing remains of the mill's coke ovens. Although Steel Winds itself only employs a handful of people, he sees the windmills as both a symbol and catalyst for the city's rebirth, hopeful it will attract like-minded industries to his hometown. "I've talked to companies that are interested in this site. Maybe green energy is return of Lackawanna". A dream today, but not long ago, so was the wind farm.
After finishing our shoot at the Steel Winds site, our crew set out for the Lackawanna Public Library, where retired schoolteacher and former Bethlehem Steel employee, Michael Malyak, oversees a small museum dedicated to the history of the steel mill. Just a few blocks away we passed through the neighborhood where the terror arrests were made. It's a rundown part of town within walking distance of the Bethlehem Steel property, and was once home to many of it's employees. Not much has changed in the years since we first came here. The small mosque is still there, as is the community center where the mostly Yemeni residents held daily press conferences defending themselves against he world.
Today the streets are mostly empty, save for a few Muslim women in headscarves walking — we found out later — to the library. There, we see the seal of the city of Lackawanna, proudly depicting the Bethlehem Steel Mill along with other symbols of the city's industrial past — a locomotive, a clipper and a steamship. If Steel Winds lives up to it's promise, they may need to make a few adjustments.
Gary Gastelu is a producer for the FOX News Channel