Once again, property rights proponents approached the Somerset County commissioners asking them to revisit a windmill ordinance and make it more restrictive.
And once again, the commissioners indicated they would not do so, because they believe they have accomplished what is a fair and balanced ordinance after 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 wind turbines should be regulated in the county.
In 2004, the commissioners responded to concerns of wind turbine proliferation by enacting an ordinance, one of the first in the state.
Rick Bonomo, a Somerset oral surgeon, became the main voice of a group of nearly a dozen residents at Tuesday’s meeting who want the ordinance revisited to provide more stringent regulations, including setbacks from property lines. The existing regulations apply only to inhabited residences or businesses.
The commissioners said the property owners should address their concerns to their local municipalities, which have the power to create stricter regulations than those found in the county ordinance.
But Bonomo said there is a problem: Many municipalities do not have the money to fight lawsuits that multimillion-dollar wind turbine businesses could file if more local regulations are required of them.
The county ordinance is a default mechanism, county Solicitor Dan Rullo said. If local municipalities choose not to adopt wind turbine regulations, then the county ordinance applies.
Somerset County residences also have legal remedies if they can prove the wind turbines are a nuisance, he added.
Residents should go beyond the county and look at the state, at least one commissioner said.
“We need to put responsibility of oversight and regulation (of the wind industry) at the state level,” said Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes.
She said the state has not been on top of the issue.
In other business, the commissioners approved payment of $732,379.83 in bills.
The commissioners also approved an agreement with the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, Berkeley, Calif., to study the county’s criminal justice system. The study will cost $137,000.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has awarded a $100,000 grant to the county to help pay for a consultant to perform an assessment of the criminal justice system and to offer suggestions to improve the county court system. The remaining $37,000 will come from county general funds. The terms of agreement must be reviewed by the county solicitor and district attorney.
By Judy D.J. Ellich
Daily American Staff Writer
(Judy D.J. Ellich can be contacted at email@example.com.)