WINDBER – Water company leaders say they will not oppose wind power development above supply wells, if the developer agrees to certain rules.
“I truly believe the windmills don’t pose a significant risk to the water supply, if managed correctly,” geologist James Casselberry told Windber Area Authority Wednesday.
Casselberry reviewed residents’ concerns and protection measures during a meeting in the authority office, 1409 Somerset Ave.
“There may be other reasons not to put windmills on that ridge, but not from a water supply standpoint,” Casselberry said.
Authority members informally assigned Casselberry to work with Solicitor James Cascio and Manager Dennis Mash to draw up conditions and guidelines for development in the water authority’s well recharge area.
Gamesa Energy USA, through a subsidiary, has proposed building 38 turbines along the Allegheny Ridge area, but only a handful affect the authority’s water supply area, Casselberry explained.
Using maps and charts, Casselberry gave authority members a crash course in the hydrogeology of the mountain, showing how water and snow falling near the ridgetop finds its way through a 500-foot-thick sandstone layer to the authority’s wells in the valley.
The sandstone is covered by impregnable shale, so surface water and groundwater have no effect on the well water, he said.
Water takes more than 50 years to reach the wells from the ridge, and is filtered along the way by stone, he added.
Other development could affect the wells: Large-scale construction or mining near the ridge top, or gas wells boring through the shale layer, Casselberry said.
Plans call for each well construction to disturb just more than 1 acre, with shallow digging.
“I don’t see that as a great risk,” Casselberry said.
Activist Joseph J. Cominsky questioned Casselberry’s findings. He believes Windber’s are more closely connected to mountain surface water, citing reduced stream levels and lake levels since the wells were drilled in the early 90s.
“I have my own thoughts about the recharge area,” Cominsky said. “I do believe surface water in the streams and groundwater affects the wells.”
Berwind Natural Resources Corp. has a contract requiring the authority to approve all development on Berwind-owned land in its watershed, Cascio explained. Windmills are on Berwind property.
“Our consent can’t be unreasonably withheld,” Cascio said, adding there can be conditions set.
The committee will have an outline of requirements ready for approval at the authority meeting on Wednesday.
By Randy Griffith
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