Hundreds protest wind turbines; Residents in Bedford, Somerset counties speak out against Shaffer Mountain project
Accusations flew and tempers flared Tuesday as hundreds of residents in Bedford and Somerset counties ordered Gamesa Energy to keep wind turbines off Shaffer Mountain.
The wind energy company is seeking a national pollutant discharge elimination system permit for the controversial project, which calls for at least 30 turbines.
About a thousand people gathered at Shade-Central City High School for a public hearing held by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Dozens held signs of protest, while a group of about 50 steel workers from Gamesa came out in support of the project.
Gamesa leaders were met with jeers and loud booing when they tried to explain their plans before the hearing began. Angry residents claimed DEP officials were bowing to political pressure and didn’t care what they had to say.
“Everyone who wants Gamesa out, get up,” said Joseph Kaminsky of Somerset County, prompting about three-quarters of the audience to stand. “The ecosystem on Shaffer Mountain is like no other. This is because of the presence of the water —exceptional value water.”
The permit Gamesa seeks deals with discharging storm water from the construction site into several area waterways.
At the center of the debate is the water quality in the Windber Area Watershed, where Shaffer Mountain lies. The state has deemed two of the trout streams there as exceptional value streams, meaning they have the highest water quality in Pennsylvania.
Gamesa officials insist a wind farm won’t damage the water. The proposed project will be in Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County, though it will include 1,000 feet of gravel road about 15 feet wide in Napier Township, Bedford County.
“We are aware that this is an exceptional value watershed,” said Tim Vought, project developer. Project roads won’t cross any streams or wetlands, he said.
An engineer Gamesa hired to review the project chimed in, saying the impact on the water would be nil.
“This project probably uses more effective protection practices than any other project I’ve worked on,” said Mike Byle of California-based engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech.
Many residents aren’t buying it.
“I am not anti-wind energy. I’m anti-Shaffer Mountain destruction,” said Jack Buchan of Johnstown, who owns 500 acres of land atop the mountain in Napier Township.
Protesters scoffed at comparisons between the Shaffer Mountain project and the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm on the Blair-Cambria County line. That wind farm near Portage isn’t in an exceptional-value watershed, they said.
“It’s ridiculous. The watershed will become industrialized,” Buchan said. “We need DEP to quit being a facilitator and an advocate for the wind industry.”
That’s not happening, DEP officials countered.
“Rules and regulations are what dictates our review,” said Rita Coleman, an official with DEP’s Southwest region.
But Larry Hutchinson of Cairnbrook urged the DEP to strike a balance between ecological and energy needs.
“Shaffer Mountain is not an appropriate place for an industrial corridor,” Hutchinson said. “Please do not permit this application.”
Troy Galloway of Hollsopple, unit president of the United Steelworkers union at Gamesa, said he believes many people are ill-informed. Gamesa is a “big believer in the environment,” he said.
“Wind energy benefits the environment as well as the economy,” Galloway said. “Pennsylvania does need a shot in the arm, and why shouldn’t we get that shot from something positive?”
By Allison Bourg
29 August 2007
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