By JUDY D.J. ELLICH
Daily American Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 9, 2006 1:17 AM EDT
Windber resident Joseph J. Cominsky, who launched an organization called “Save the Mountain” last month, asked county commissioners Tuesday to revisit the county’s two-year-old windmill ordinance.
Cominsky said his group of residents and property owners from Ogle and Shade townships wants county regulations that address watershed protection and provide setbacks from property lines, not occupied buildings. The current regulations apply only to inhabited residences or businesses.
Property owners who do not have a building or have one that is not in use “have no protection,” said Cominsky, who calls his request a property rights issue.
Gamesa Energy USA, a subsidiary of Gamesa Corp., a Spanish wind turbine manufacturer, plans to erect 30 windmills within a watershed in both townships.
Brian Lammers, Gamesa Energy’s director of development for the Atlantic region, attended the meeting to emphasize his company’s support for the county’s existing windmill ordinance.
After Cominsky made his request, Commissioner James Marker said, “We will take it under advisement.”
However, there was little show of support for Cominsky’s request among the commissioners.
The commissioners said that the county’s windmill ordinance was derived from a long and elaborate process with extensive public input. That process began in 2002, when the commissioners created a 13-member “ridgetop protection committee” to determine if windmills should be regulated here.
In 2004, the commissioners responded to concerns of windmill proliferation by enacting an ordinance that regulates how close the towers can be built to neighboring residences or businesses without the property owner’s consent. Companies also must prove they have sufficient funds available to remove the turbines once they have outlived their usefulness.
Marker said the commissioners worked hard to balance the interests of those who want more regulations and those who don’t.
Commissioner Brad Cober said that any change to the windmill ordinance “would not be taken lightly” because of the elaborate process to put the regulations in place.
The county has led the state on the issue of windmill regulation, according to Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes.
“We were out there alone. The state was asleep at the switch. There was no protection (for property owners) prior to the windmill ordinance,” she said.
County solicitor Dan Rullo said more stringent windmill regulations would have to come from individual municipalities, not the county
For any municipality without an ordinance, the regulations set forth by Somerset County’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance involving wind energy towers are applied. However, any local municipality’s windmill ordinance will preempt the county’s ordinance so long as it is not less stringent than the county ordinance.
Besides Gamesa, there are several other wind turbine projects in various stages of development throughout the county.
In July, the Somerset County Planning Commission approved applications from Forward WindPower LLC to erect 10 wind turbines on three adjacent properties along Ridge Road in Shade Township. Approval of an 11th wind turbine is pending, according to planning commission Executive Director Brad Zearfoss, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Plans to erect about a half-dozen turbines on several properties near Sheep Ridge Road off Stutzmantown Road in Stonycreek Township have been approved for about 18 months under the auspices of Stonycreek WindPower LLC. Stonycreek and Forward are affiliated with Generation Resources Holding Co. of Leawood, Kan.
(Judy D.J. Ellich can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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