Electricity-generating wind farms could soon be coming to northern Lycoming County if an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance is approved.
A draft of the proposed amendment was presented Thursday to the county Planning Commission.
Commission Executive Director Jerry S. Walls said the amendment was the result of a need to “clarify” the existing ordinance which currently allows wind farms in agricultural and countryside zones and in so-called resource protection zones if the county zoning hearing board approves a special exception permit.
The amendment would allow development of wind farms in resource protection and agricultural zones and in countryside zones if a special exception is granted.
According to Clifford Kanz, county development services supervisor, almost all of the area appropriate for wind farms is in the northern half of the county.
Walls said a number of developments, including the protracted county Zoning Hearing Board public hearing on the special exception application by Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy Co., was at the root of the amendment.
The company proposed building a wind farm along Laurel Hill Ridge in Jackson and McIntyre townships.
The overall hearing on the wind farm proposal took place at several times and ultimately lasted nearly a year-and-a-half. After the board rejected the application last July, the company appealed the decision in county court.
Judge Nancy Butts has not yet issued a decision on the matter.
“We learned a lot out of that first process and are in a situation where Laurel Hill Wind Energy’s appeal is being considered by Judge Butts,” Walls said.
Walls acknowledged the amendment will not be applicable to the Laurel Hill case, but will “cover the potential of other wind energy applications that … may be in the offing.”
“It is important (for the commission) to move on this,” Walls said.
Walls suggested the commission give its approval to send the document to municipalities participating in the county’s zoning partnership for a 30-day review and to solicit comments.
During its June meeting, the commission could make a recommendation to the county commissioners to enact the amendment, Walls said.
The commissioners would hold a public hearing and could enact the amendment in July, he said.
Board member Ann Pepperman was against the idea because grammatical errors, poor sentence construction and vague and confusing terminology in the amendment made her uncomfortable with releasing the document to anyone outside the commission.
Walls asked Pepperman to note recommended changes on a copy of the amendment so that revisions could be made.
Commission members also weighed in on wording in the amendment regarding decommissioning wind farm equipment and the type and size of the bond required to ensure decommissioning.
A second draft of the amendment will be placed before the commission for consideration at its June meeting, Walls said.
Walls also asked McIntyre and Jackson township officials, who attended Thursday’s meeting, to comment on the amendment.
“I think you got it right,” Jackson Township Supervisor Clarence Mathews said.
Mathews and other officials of the two townships testified during the Zoning Hearing Board hearing on behalf of the wind farm. The wind company agreed to pay the townships $2 million over 20 years for giving permission for the wind farm to be built.
Mathews called the 1 1/2-year hearing “a dog and pony show” and said further the application process “was derailed by a few misfits,” a reference to a small group of residents who banded together to oppose the wind farm.
McIntyre Township Supervisor Albert Boyer said the application process “started off with good intentions but it bogged down.”
“We learned a lot from it but we are still without a final decision,” he said.
Boyer said he is hoping Butts makes a decision on the appeal soon.
Walls said the amendment will allow the county to avoid a costly hearing and appeals process, such as occurred with Laurel Hill, and which may have cost the county “in the range of $100,000.”
“We can’t continue to incur the extreme costs through that kind of process,” Walls said.
Walls also presented a proposed policy for wind energy facilities. The policy will help guide developers interested in building wind farms in the county, he said.
“Developers come in and say, “˜tell us what you want,'” he said. “This attempts to do that.”
By David Thompson
17 May 2007
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