Joe Cominsky calls ’em like he sees ’em. So does neighboring landowner Roger Irons.
But these two outspoken straight-shooters are at odds this time around the mill ““ the windmill, that is.
By founding “Save the Mountain” and preaching tighter restrictions on wind power at meetings countywide, Cominsky has become the face of wind turbine opposition in northern Somerset County.
“I feel that the difference between myself and the people that want wind development in that watershed is a question of greed,” he said.
“Everyone has their price. For me, there’s no price on that watershed.”
His neighbor, 59-year-old Irons, bought his picturesque property 12 years ago with windmills in mind. Armed with stacks of studies and information from wind organizations, Irons says the opposition’s points are mute, or simply, “a load of beans.”
“I believe the opposition is feeding the general public and the (Shade Township) supervisors misinformation and using deception and underhanded practices,” he said.
After spending about 20 years near the West Coast, where many of the nation’s first industrial-strength turbines were placed, Irons came to admire wind power.
He liked them so much, he said, that he bought 40 Shade Township acres for two reasons: The view and the potential to site windmills there.
“I think they’re artistic,” Irons said. “I think they’re graceful,” he added, comparing their lines to those of streamlined cruisers from the 50s, much like the pale blue ’57 Cadillac parked in his yard.
Unlike Cominsky, he didn’t receive a letter from the Gamesa about a wind farm. Irons called Gamesa hoping to get a turbine or two sited on his property. The company had plans for 60 windmills in Shade Township, and that’s just the first phase.
But a proposed township ordinance would stop the company, to Irons’ dismay. The draft calls for noise levels of no louder than 45 decibels and a setback that could be stricter than the county’s regulations.
Like Cominsky and others claim, Irons says his property rights are under attack.
“I bought this with the intention of putting up windmills, and, now, they’re telling me I can’t do it,” he said at his ridge-top home. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Instead of drafting their own ordinance, Irons urged supervisors to look to the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisor’s model, which is more lenient.
“By making adjustments, they’re second-guessing someone who has done the research,” Irons said. “I don’t believe they can even make an educated guess with the wealth of information that’s out there.”
That’s one area where the two agree.
A quick search online can yield hundreds of links to studies and claims on either side of the issue. Much of what Irons relies on is provided by organizations that support wind power, such as the American Wind Energy Association. But, he says, the wind organizations paid independent consultants to do the actual research.
On Friday, 59-year-old Cominsky filed study after study with the Shade Township supervisors to help guide them in their decision on a wind ordinance.
Though others in his group are taking other angles against windmills ““ claiming they would destroy an important migration trek and that turbines could cause serious health problems for humans ““ Cominsky is known for talking about the “pristine watershed.”
“My thought is, I don’t own anything. I’m a caretaker. I owe it to my forefathers and future generations to fight this,” he said. “Once the damage is done, it will never be the same.
“It’s a very delicate, balanced ecosystem,” he said, comparing a turbine’s construction to an 800-pound gorilla in a small garden. The whole windmill deal, which is heavily subsidized, is a scam, according to Cominsky. Some figures show the turbines produce little useful energy and are only productive with tax credits, he claims. But again, folks such as Irons have paperwork to say otherwise.
Cominsky is urging people to attend a forum at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to learn more. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the university’s Living and Learning Center.
On a cruise near the ridge, the Allegheny Front, Cominsky stopped off at a 300-acre sandstone mining site and at the landfill.
“Now, they want to dump more on us,” he said. “It’s another intrusion.”
Allegheny and Ogle township supervisors also are dealing with the issue of a possible ordinance.
Cominsky claims property rights are what’s at stake.
“Why should one property owner be able to devastate another property owner’s rights?” he said.
BY Kecia Bal