When Walt and Maureen Wroblewski bought a nearly 200-acre farm overlooking the Laurel Hill Ridge in Jackson Township, they named it Windsong Farm because the wind literally whistled across the mountain top.
The phenomenon was so striking that Maureen Wroblewski wrote a poem about it. The couple spent years turning the farm – which they described as being in serious disrepair – into their own little slice of paradise.
Little did they know the resource that provided them with inspiration would later become an albatross that would divide the community and pit neighbor against neighbor. Because of its wind, the Laurel Hill Ridge has been identified as a prime location for electricity-generating windmills.
The Wroblewskis and a handful of neighbors have spent more than two years making sure that does not happen, and so far, have been successful.
When Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC proposed a 47-turbine wind farm on the ridge, most of which is in a resource protection zone, opponents mobilized during a county zoning hearing board hearing on whether to issue a special exception permit to the company to build the turbines. The board rejected the application, and its decision was later upheld by county court Judge Nancy Butts.
The Worblewskis said that since the controversy arose, the township, which they described as a close-knit community where everyone is known on a first-name basis, has changed.
Maureen Wroblewski described the atmosphere as “very hostile.”
Lifelong friends no longer speak to each other because of their differences. Those who still talk tip-toe around the subject rather than provoke an argument, she said.
“We all want to keep these friendships going,” Walt Wroblewski said. “They’re all good people (but) this is an emotional thing. It evokes sadness and fear.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that the issue has not been fully resolved.
The wind energy company has appealed Butt’s decision in Commonwealth Court.
Additionally, Lycoming County Planning Commission Executive Director Jerry S. Walls and county planning staff have proposed an amendment to the county zoning ordinance that, if approved by the county commissioners, will allow wind farms by right on Laurel Hill and other areas within resource protection districts.
The Wroblewskis said the proposal is a slick way of circumventing the board and judge’s decision, while supporters of the project, including township officials, said the amendment is a common-sense way of dealing with a new and complicated technology.
Robert Myers, who owns about 700 acres on the ridge and wants to lease his land to the wind company, said lost in the controversy is the issue of landowner rights.
“We’ve heard for years about (the opponents’) rights. What about the rights of the landowner?” he asked.
Myers added that he is offended that people assume that because they can see his property, they have a right to interfere with what he does with it.
“All of a sudden, it’s their mountain and nobody’s paid me a nickel for it,” he said.
Myers also said he is skeptical about opponents’ concerns for the environment and wildlife.
“They said they don’t want it here because they don’t want to look at it,” he said. “All they’re doing is grasping at straws to prolong the project so that eventually the wind company will go away.”
McIntyre Township Supervisor Al Boyer said he believes the majority of the community supports the project.
Supervisors in both Jackson and McIntyre townships, who have passed resolutions supporting the wind farm project, have been re-elected since the controversy erupted, Boyer said.
Walt Wroblewski, however, said arguments presented against the project have been given weight by Zoning Hearing Board and court decisions.
“We won with the Zoning Hearing Board, we won with Judge Butts. Now Jerry Walls and (the planning staff) have spent our tax dollars to put those turbines where twice they were told they don’t belong,” he said.
By David Thompson
29 July 2007
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