The fate of a proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance as it pertains to wind energy is in the hands of the Lycoming County commissioners, who will vote on the amendment on Nov. 15.
The commissioners Monday hosted a public hearing at Pennsylvania College of Technology to hear comments about the amendment, which, if approved, would allow commercial electricity-generating wind turbines by right in resource protection, agriculture and countryside zoning districts.
The meeting was a short one, compared to other meetings involving the wind energy issue. A three-minute time limit on how long each speaker could talk kept it under an hour long.
The ordinance currently allows wind farms in agricultural and countryside zoning districts by right and in resource protection zoned districts by a special exception granted by the county Zoning Hearing Board.
The amendment was proposed by county Planning Commission staff following a prolonged Zoning Hearing Board hearing on whether to grant a special exception permit to Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy Co. so it could build wind turbines on a seven-mile section of ridgeline in Jackson and McIntyre townships in northern Lycoming County.
The board denied the permit, which was appealed in county court. County Judge Nancy Butts upheld the board’s ruling.
The Planning Commission approved the amendment and recommended the commissioners adopt it.
A slight majority of those who spoke during Monday’s hearing were against allowing wind turbines in resource protection zones or spoke against wind energy altogether.
Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce president Dr. Vincent Matteo urged the commissioners to pass the amendment.
“We in Lycoming County must stop throwing up road blocks each and every time someone wants to develop,” Matteo said.
According to Matteo, county residents claim to support development and job creation, but every time a developer comes forward “they are made to jump through hoops.”
Keith Kuzio, president and CEO of architectural and engineering firm Larson Design Group, said he supports both the amendment and the proposed project on Laurel Hill.
Wind energy can be a “symbol that we have examined other methods of generating electricity” than with fossil fuels, he said.
Supervisors Albert Boyer, of McIntyre Township, and Clarence Matthews, of Jackson Township, speaking on behalf of their boards of supervisors, told the commissioners that they supported the amendment.
Matthews said he supports the Laurel Hill project even though he “would be able to see the entire project from my recliner.”
Andrea Young, of Moreland Township, said she not only supported wind energy development and other sources of renewable energy, she found them to be “functional sculpture.”
Irene Harrison, of Cogan Station agreed. Wind turbines are not offensive to look at, she said.
Brenda Myers, on whose property a portion of the Laurel Hill project was to be built, said opponents of the project are putting forth “lots of distorted facts.”
Wind energy is a clean, renewable source of energy that produces none of the pollution fossil fuels produce, Myers said.
Wind energy may not be the complete answer to dependence on fossil fuels, “but it’s a start and step in the right direction,” she said.
Arthur Plaxton, of Jackson Township, said Lycoming County has a great resource that many other communities do not have – its beautiful scenery and unspoiled woodland.
Plaxton said the Endless Mountains Music Festival, held during the summer in Tioga County, is one example of how the beauty of the region can inspire others to create something that is culturally and economically beneficial.
Destroying that beauty will adversely affect the quality of life in the region, which could affect whether professionals would want to live here, he said.
Ron Kamzelski, of Tioga County, also urged the commissioners to vote down the amendment.
According to Kamzelski, their decision will not only affect Lycoming County, but the entire region.
“One can only wonder what part of (the term) resource protection the Planning Commission did not understand,” he said. “Hopefully, you will get it correct.”
City resident William McConnell, who said he worked as an environmental scientist for the electrical power industry, said wind energy will never be economically viable on the Appalachian plateau. It can only function with tax breaks, he said.
Approving the amendment would be “ill-considered and ill-advised,” he said.
Frank Piccolella, of Jackson Township, said wind energy proponents want to “paint a rosy picture” of wind energy.
They exaggerate the amount of energy wind turbines can produce, underplay the impact on the environment, wildlife and scenery, he said.
Piccolella’s wife Judi said the Planning Commission ignore facts by recommending an amendment that does nothing to protect county residents.
Dorothy Koonz, of Jackson Township, lamented the fractured friendships that have occurred since the Laurel Hillproject was proposed.
Her husband Gene called the project “pork power” because of the tax subsidies needed to make wind energy profitable.
Koonz said he is concerned about the impact the project will have on erosion and sediment runoff in the area.
“It’s going to be in my backyard and I don’t want it in my backyard,” he said.
Following the meeting, Dan Vilello, a representative of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency will require any wind development to go through a permitting process to ensure minimal impact on the environment.
By David Thompson
23 October 2007
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