CAIRNBROOK – State officials got an earful and more on opposition to Gamesa Energy USA’s proposal to site 30 turbines on Somerset County’s Shaffer Mountain at a public hearing Tuesday night.
A crowd of more than 450 heckled, cheered and jeered as speakers took the stand at a packed Shade High School gymnasium.
More than 50 people signed up to give five-minute testimonials – more than four hours’ worth – at the state Department of Environmental Protection’s hearing and public meeting on the project to place windmills in Shade and Ogle townships. Gamesa is to resubmit an application to the agency by October for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
“This proposed project did, and will, hit raw nerves,” said Dave Sewak of Ogletown, speaking on behalf of Mountain Laurel Trout Unlimited.
With signs that said things such as, “Stop Gamesa from Destroying this Mountain,” opponents lined up outside. Officials called for police protection after they nearly blocked the entrance with information and representatives, authorities said.
Outspoken opponent Jack Buchan of Johnstown placed a sign: “Imagine the UGLINESS” before he went inside and later gave his 5-minute testimony.
Gamesa representatives as well as a geotechnical engineer, an ecologist and a bat biologist showed a half-hour presentation on the company’s plans to avoid negatively impacting waterways and wildlife.
“These are more effective protection measures than any project I have worked on,” said Mike Byle, engineer with Tetra Tech EC Inc., a New Jersey-based engineering and consulting firm.
Byle said the project should have no wetlands impact and should improve existing roads, drainage patterns and increase base flow to the Exceptional Value stream and increase its quality.
A busload of about 40 employees from Gamesa’s Ebensburg plant arrived in Gamesa ballcaps to sit together and provide most of the company’s backing in the tough crowd.
“They deserve our support,” said Chuck Bagley, a union representative with United Steelworkers Local 2635.
“We came because we live in an economically depressed area, and they provide more than 200 jobs (at the Ebensburg plant),” he said.
The Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm would create 10 permanent jobs, said Ellen Lutz, regional development director for Gamesa.
Opponents’ claims that the wind farm is environmentally unsound are unfounded, Bagley said, and pale in comparison to the destruction left by strip mining.
But Sewak and others repeatedly said the proposed site would harm an exceptional value stream – an island of untouched waters in a sea of mine-ravaged waterways.
Dennis McNair, biology chairman at Pitt-Johnstown, said lessons from the mining industry have been lost with lax state regulations on the wind industry.
DEP officials said they will accept written comments for the next 40 days.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of wind-industry companies including Gamesa, said he often sees emotional reactions with proposed projects.
“You don’t usually see a reaction this rabid,” he said. “But you do see an emotional reaction everywhere you go.”
DEP Southwest Region Manager Rita Coleman said the agency’s decision whether to grant the company a permit will have to be based on facts, not emotions.
“By the looks of the crowd, this will end up in court,” she said. “We are going to be (using science) because science is defensible.”
By Kecia Bal
29 August 2007
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