Concern over a proposed wind plant on the border of Bedford and Somerset counties is growing, with an online petition asking residents to speak out against the plans.
About 100 residents have signed the petition at www.shaffermountain.com, which was started by several citizens’ groups in both counties. The groups oppose Gamesa Energy USA’s tentative plans to build wind turbines atop Shaffer Mountain.
Gamesa officials said last week they plan to hold a town hall-style meeting in June in Somerset County to address residents’ worries. A date has not been set.
“We are very, very sensitive to local feedback in everything we do,” said Michael Peck, Gamesa spokesman. “We have a firm conviction that our wind farms must be completely integrated into the community so that everyone feels it’s a good idea for the right reasons. We are very conscientious about this.”
The project already has prompted one landowner to file notice of an intent to sue to keep out the turbines.
Jack Buchan of Johnstown, who owns 500 acres of land on Shaffer Mountain in Napier Township, Bedford County, plans to file a lawsuit in court over the project. He says it will create 18 miles of roads that will destroy the environment on top of the mountain.
“If we can’t resolve this without having to go to court, then we are probably going to go statewide and try to oppose them [Gamesa] everywhere they are,” Buchan said.
Gamesa officials say the project calls for 30 turbines on Shaffer Mountain, although Buchan maintains that original plans included 33 turbines, four of which were slated for Bedford County.
Napier Township supervisors last month passed a wind turbine ordinance that regulates noise levels, shadow flicker and permitting and requires turbines to be set back from all occupied residences by at least 2,500 feet.
The proposed project will be in Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County but will include 1,000 feet of gravel road about 15 feet wide in Napier Township, officials said.
“There is good, consistent wind speed on Shaffer Mountain,” Ellen Lutz, director of development for Gamesa’s Atlantic region, said of the location. “It’s in a remote location Ã³ there are very few houses there.”
Some residents with land along Shaffer Mountain worry about the impact turbines could have on the Windber Area Authority watershed. The authority late last year gave Gamesa conditional approval for the project, but voted 5-1 against the project in March.
Calls to the authority were referred to attorney Jim Casio, who was unavailable for comment last week.
The watershed has two trout streams designated by the state as exceptional value streams, which means they have the highest water quality in Pennsylvania. Those against the Shaffer Mountain project maintain a wind project could damage that water quality.
Project Developer Tim Vought said the proposed project will have zero impact on the area’s water quality, he said.
“Gamesa is very committed to the environment and doing things in an environmentally conscious, sustainable way,” Lutz said. “We’ve probably gone above and beyond with this.”
The mountain is also home to certain rare plants, such as bladderwort and pitcher plant, as well as hawks, bald and golden eagles and other migratory birds.
But Gamesa says its officials work closely with agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Vought said wind energy projects that disturb more than five acres of ground are required to obtain a federal permit called the National Pollutants Discharge Elimination System. Gamesa’s permit application is pending.
He said they’re also in the process of testing the impact the project could have on the area’s bat population. Vought said Gamesa is setting up a 40-foot-wide net on Shaffer Mountain to capture bats and see what species live on the mountain.
“If you site a project properly and understand [bats’] flight patterns, there will be minimal to nil impact,” Lutz said.
By Allison Bourg
27 May 2007
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