The state Department of Environmental Protection has set a public hearing on a controversial wind turbine project for 6 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Shade-Central City High School.
Opponents of the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm, a 30-turbine wind project designed to extend through parts of Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County, have been asking the DEP for a hearing for the last several months.
“This is one step in the right direction. This will give us a chance to learn more about the project and put our objections on record,” said Laura Jackson, chairman of Save Our Allegheny Ridges, which is opposed to the facility.
DEP officials received more than 300 written requests, including ones from Shade Township supervisors and other community groups, according to a DEP statement.
At least three state and federal agencies have also issued letters of concern about the potential impact of the turbine project.
The state Game Commission issued a letter on June 11 that the project, sited along the Allegheny Front, would be within what the Pennsylvania Audubon designates an important bird area. That front sees the migration of the endangered eastern golden eagle and federally listed species Indiana bat and bald eagle.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a similar letter on Aug. 16. Additionally, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the state Fish and Boat Commission have said that surveys of the area done by Gamesa might not have accounted for endangered flora and protected species of the timber rattlesnake.
Gamesa officials have said that they have conducted a number of environmental studies on the site as part of their application process.
Endangered species, bird migrations, bat populations, wetlands impact, commercial and private air traffic, archaeological sites and even electronic transmission interference have all been looked at for the project, said Ellen Lutz, Gamesa’s director of development for the Atlantic region.
The company also plans to work with the concerned agencies to continue those studies well into the future, she said.
In addition to the DEP hearing, Gamesa officials will be on hand to explain the project and permit application beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the gymnasium lobby, according to the release.
The Spanish wind energy company conducted a public town hall meeting on June 11 in order to address what project developers described as a growing misinformation movement among those who oppose the site.
Their goal was explain to explain to the public the benefits of wind energy in general and misconceptions about the Shaffer Mountain project specifically.
Those opposing the plan will have an opportunity to submit written objections and testimony to the DEP during the upcoming hearing.
DEP Community Relations Coordinator Helen Humphreys requested that those planning to present oral testimony contact the department by Aug. 26.
Reservations can be made by calling Humphreys at 412-442-4183 or by e-mail at Hhumphreys@state.pa.us
The public comment period for the project, which was scheduled to end June 26, will be extended until that hearing, she said.
The extension of the public comment period will now coincide with Gamesa’s late August deadline to have the technical portion of the project, the engineering and earth-moving plans, resubmitted to the Somerset County Conservation District.
Environmental concerns will be reviewed by the DEP after the conservation district approves the technical portion of the application.
While the department’s mandate in permitting is stormwater management, soil and erosion controls, other agencies lacking enforcement over such projects provide input on environmental concerns like impacts on animal populations and habitats.
By DAN DiPAOLO
Daily American 30 North Chief
August 1, 2007
(Dan DiPaolo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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