After years of innuendo, the word is finally out. Energy Unlimited is not only eager to industrialize Luzerne County’s premier conservation land purchase, it is planning to exclude you, the taxpayer, from ever visiting it. Thus, public property, with wonderful resources for hunting, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and other uses, will likely be “off limits” to the public.
Let us review the situation. In 2004 Luzerne County spent $4 million to buy the roughly 4,000-acre Crystal Lake Parcel for “conservation and recreation.” What was not revealed at the time was that the “wind rights” were not included with the purchase. We later learned that a large wind energy industrial site was planned for the property’s most scenic and important acres, the pristine wooded slopes that form the watershed for Crystal Lake, the water supply for much of Mountain Top.
We at Defend our Watershed have long held that not only will the construction of this facility destroy the pristine beauty of this parcel, but also require that access to the area around the installation (essentially 1,700 acres of the land nearest to the lake) be denied. We began to suspect this because of the restrictions that operators have enacted at other installations. For instance, in an article from 2005 in the Citizens’ Voice, Florida Power and Light spokesperson Mary Wells said of their Waymart Wind facility: “We build our facilities on private property and it’s our expectation that people abide by posted signs,” she said.
You see, wind farms are potentially dangerous places. 200-ton turbines with 120-foot long blades with tip speeds in excess on 100 mph can pose a hazard to nearby humans (not to mention birds and bats). Occasionally, blades can actually fall off and can be propelled some distance. We’ve learned from the Bald Mountain wind site, currently operating in Bear Creek Township, that oil leaks are not uncommon, and can be difficult to resolve.
Then there is another problem. Again from the Citizens’ Voice: “Turbine blades can accumulate ice that can be thrown several hundred feet,” according to Wells, “which makes safety a concern.” It seems unlikely in these litigious times that an operator would tolerate the risk that an injury might occur. Energy Unlimited, the developer of the Crystal Lake installation, has been coy about this, but over the months of zoning and planning hearings held at Bear Creek Township, their true intentions are leaking out.
Consistently EUI touts as an advantage to the site, the lack of public access, conveniently ignoring the fact that there are multiple access points, including an official state snowmobile trail, on adjacent State Game Commission property, which leads directly to the proposed turbines.
In a recent planning board hearing, representatives from Energy Unlimited asserted that the “wind rights agreement” gives them the legal right to exclude visitors from the property. Our reading of the agreement suggests they’re probably right, as the document states: ” (the) Lessor will not otherwise use the property for any use which interferes with, or is incompatible, or take any action which interferes with, or is incompatible with the lessee’s use of the property.” So if having a bunch of pesky hikers, hunters, or snowmobilers near the roads or turbines is incompatible with the wind facilities operation, then the “wind park” operator has the right to exclude them from the area.
Energy Unlimited has also announced their intention to prevent public use of the extensive road system that they will gouge out of the forest to construct and maintain the facility. So extensive is this road system, that it will be difficult to traverse large sections of the parcel without incurring EUI’s potential wrath. We have no doubt that the wind park operator will actively control the site. During the recent zoning hearings in the township, when asked how the public might be protected from the hazards posed by the installation, EUI’s attorney, Ernie Preate had a quick answer: “Guards and fences” he quipped.
The “Penobscot Wind Park” is clearly an inappropriate and incompatible use of county conservation and recreational land. We support the efforts of the current Bear Creek supervisors as they attempt to bring order to this project, which was given a free reign by the previous township administration. For our part DOW, with our partners from Bear Creek Township, will continue to fight for taxpayers rights in court. Concerned sportsmen, and Luzerne County residents should demand that the majority Luzerne County commissioners begin to protect this property and the rights of the taxpayers who will ultimately pay for it.
Henry F. Smith Jr. Wright Township
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