Spanish based wind energy developer Gamesa Energy USA is proposing to the Borough of Tyrone a possible wind farm containing 10 to 15 wind mills on its watershed property on Ice Mountain. If built, the borough will be paid $6,000 per wind mill per year during the Operation Period, or three percent of the gross annual electricity revenue, whichever is greater. It is a guaranteed minimum of $60,000 to $90,000 per year.
Although the money side of it sounds right and Gamesa’s stance on environmental effects of the wind farm site and its surroundings are addressed by the company by carefully looking into and abiding by the laws, some local organizations feel the Ice Mountain site is not a good place for Gamesa to set up shop for an abundance of environmental concerns.
Tyrone Mayor James Kilmartin has said that 70 percent of borough residents he has been in contact with oppose the wind farm project. This is a similar result to the Harrisburg Patriot News poll that revealed that 83 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose industrial wind farms on state forest lands.
Juniata Valley Audubon Society (JVAS) President Stan Kotala, M.D. has been at the forefront of the opposition in Gamesa’s proposed wind farm on Ice Mountain. He said that the JVAS is not opposed to wind energy, but asks that wind energy be developed in an ecologically sound manner, avoiding ecologically sensitive areas, such as Ice Mountain.
“We ask that wind energy developers follow US Fish and Wildlife Service Guidelines calling for the avoidance of migratory pathways and unfragmented forests,” said Kotala. “The National Academy of Sciences, the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service all recognize that, at many locations, the ecological costs of industrial wind farms outweigh their benefits.”
The JVAS has said many times that the ecological significance of Ice Mountain and its surrounding landscape led this area to be designated as a “unique” Landscape Conservation Area “of exceptional significance” in the Blair County Natural Heritage Inventory. Ice Mountain also is designated as a County Natural Heritage Area and a Greenway (Blair County Comprehensive Plan – 2007).
Kotala also stated that last summer the Snyder Township Planning Commission consistently refused to include provisions in an industrial wind farm ordinance that would be protective to wildlife: Unlike neighboring Antis and Tyrone Townships, the Snyder Township Planning Commission refused to include a provision requiring the wind plant developer to follow US Fish and Wildlife Service recommendations that would protect wildlife. The township’s draft ordinance has not yet been made public.
In a recent issue of The Daily Herald, the Tyrone Borough’s forester issued a recommendation and suggestion report on the 3,800 acre watershed property for the borough, where forester Paul Noll suggested that Gamesa’s wind farm development would be favorable to the borough because the money gained could be used to address other issues on the property.
Although Noll isn’t considered an expert on the possible negative environmental effects of wind farm development, he said he didn’t know of any negative environmental effects it would have based on his report.
Kotala disagrees with that statement and said, “The problem with the borough forester’s report is that it doesn’t take an ecosystem approach to the watershed. It also doesn’t acknowledge Ice Mountain’s certification as a County Natural Heritage Area, Landscape Conservation Area, and Greenway. It does not address the ‘unique’ status of Ice Mountain’s wildlife habitat as described in the Blair County Natural Heritage Inventory. The forester’s report looks at Ice Mountain merely as a supply of future lumber for harvest.”
He said that the US Fish and Wildlife Service identifies three major impacts of industrial wind plants on wildlife: 1. Direct mortality to birds and bats 2. Forest fragmentation 3. The inducement of avoidance behavior.
Kotala shared some negative environmental effects industrial wind plants can have: Industrial wind turbines in forested settings kill 50-100 bats per turbine per year. PA’s three migratory bat species are the most severely affected by industrial wind plants. The Pennsylvania Biological Survey describes the impact of industrial wind plants on bat population as “severe.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has designated the Allegheny Front as a “high risk site” for industrial wind farms because of its importance to migrating raptors. The Allegheny Front, of which Ice Mountain is a part, is the most important fall migration route for golden eagles in the eastern US. Industrial wind plants affect golden eagles through direct mortality as well as the inducement of avoidance behavior.
Kotala said that an industrial wind plant on Ice Mountain will result in extensive forest fragmentation through the construction of 14 miles of heavy-duty roads, transmission line corridors, substations, accessory buildings and associated infrastructure.
“50 forest interior bird species nest on Ice Mountain and will be adversely affected by the proposed wind plant’s turbine clearings and roadways,” said Kotala.
He said that the widening of existing roads and the construction of additional roads will result in an increase in alien invasive species. Exotics such as tree-of-heaven, Japanese barberry, Russian olive, Japanese knotweed, Japanese stiltgrass, and others thrive in edge habitats “that will be increased dramatically if this wind plant is constructed.”
“The forester’s report does not address any of these impacts and in short, the report is selective in the information it presents and is biased,” said Kotala. “It is very incomplete and indicates that the forester can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Kotala also pointed out that Gamesa’s intended public meeting on Wednesday, December 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Tyrone Senior Center appears to be a “one on one” format, not an open forum.
“That type of format is typically used by government entities and developers who are trying to hide uncomfortable questions from the public ear,” said Kotala. “A ‘one on one’ format prevents ALL those present at the meeting from hearing the questions and the answers, or lack of answers.”
Another local organization, the Little Juniata River Association and its president Bill Anderson have been following the efforts by Gamesa to convince Tyrone Borough to allow them to construct wind turbines on Ice Mountain.
He and his wife, Carol, who are former owners of Joybeans in Tyrone, say they are totally in favor of energy sufficiency. In fact, more than 25 years ago they built a very energy efficient house with passive and active solar energy.
But, as with Kotala, Anderson feels Gamesa’s possible wind farm location on Ice Mountain isn’t a good location for wind energy development.
“We have concluded that the eyesore and the threats to the environment that these huge, 400 foot high, turbines pose, are not worth the relatively tiny contribution to energy independence they will provide,” said Anderson. “It also concerns us that Gamesa is owned by a foreign company and that it has obtained substantial tax concessions from our state government for this project.”
As president of the Little Juniata River Association, Anderson stated that the group’s mission is to protect the Little “j” and its tributaries, and he has great concern for the small tributary streams which will receive the sediment and run-off from the service roads and clearings at the turbine sites.
“In spite of what Gamesa says, I see no way such mammoth structures can be moved into place and erected without substantial disturbance and subsequent erosion,” said Anderson.
He continued by adding that this concern is especially relevant with regard to the Vanscoyec and Big Fill Runs which are both high quality wild trout streams. They are both tributaries of Little Bald Eagle Creek which joins the Little Juniata River in Tyrone.
“If this project proceeds, we will ask that DEP hold public hearings regarding possible impact on these waters,” said Anderson.
Anderson said he understand that Tyrone Borough can use the money resulting from the royalties to be paid and that he realizes there is a powerful monetary attraction that is being offered, however he does not think it is worth the price to be paid by generations to come.
“The most responsible use for these properties is for hunting, perpetual hardwood timber harvesting, and as a major corridor for migrating birds,” said Anderson. “We urge everyone on the borough council to vote ‘no’ to Gamesa wind turbines on Ice Mountain or on any other borough properties.”
By Kris Yaniello
1 December 2007
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