Depending on your point of view, an amendment to the county zoning ordinance pertaining to wind energy is a step toward energy independence or a threat to the preservation of the county’s wilderness and scenic beauty.
The Lycoming County commissioners Thursday unanimously approved the amendment, which will allow electricity-generating wind turbines by right in resource protection, countryside and agricultural zoning districts.
The amendment goes into effect immediately.
The zoning ordinance previously allowed wind turbines in countyside and agricultural districts by right, and in resource protection districts by special exception permit granted by the county Zoning Hearing Board.
The amendment was proposed last spring by county Planning Commission staff in the wake of a Zoning Hearing Board hearing lasting nearly a year-and-a-half involving a wind energy project proposed on a seven-mile section of the Laurel Hill Ridge in northern Lycoming County.
Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy Co. requested the board approve a special exception to build the turbines on land zoned mostly for resource protection.
The board denied the permit by a vote of 3 to 2 and the wind company appealed the decision in county court. When county Judge Nancy Butts upheld the board’s decision, the company appealed the ruling in Commonwealth Court, where it remains.
Then-commission executive director Jerry S. Walls said the hearing and appeals process cost the county more than $100,000. The amendment would clarify the zoning ordinance and help streamline the process of approving or denying wind energy projects, he said.
Commissioner Dick Nassberg said the Laurel Hill project was “uncharted waters” for the county. Nassberg said the amendment would accelerate the permitting process for wind farms.
Commissioner Rebecca A. Burke said the county is obliged by law to provide for all types of uses in its zoning ordinance. The amendment will provide comprehensive guidelines for wind development that did not previously exist in the zoning ordinance, she said.
“I think the (amendment) is an opportunity to do it right,” Burke said. “That was something we were not able to do.”
“I think the Planning Commission put together and ordinance I feel is very, very good,” Commissioner Ernie Larson said.
According to Burke, most of the written comments the commissioners received following a public hearing regarding the amendment favored the amendment and providing opportunities to develop wind energy.
Burke said she hoped all residents would “embrace the decisions we’ve made here.”
In other business, the commissioners gave their blessing to a Pennsylvania College of Technology tax exempt bond issue which college officials said will be used to refinance existing college debt and for a major renovation and construction initiative.
According to the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, for the bonds to meet federal tax exempt requirements, they must be approved by the governing bodies with jurisdiction in the area they will be used.
The $125 million bond will help fund the most ambitious undertaking in the college’s history, college senior vice president William Martin said.
In addition to refinancing previous bond issues, the funds will be used to renovate three major facilities and construct a new student housing facility on the college’s main campus, Martin said.
According to Martin, work will begin in January 2009 and will take about three-and-half to four years to complete.
College bond counsel Chris Brewer said the county’s approval of the bond issue in no way makes it responsible for repaying the bonds.
By David Thompson
16 November 2007
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