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Tioga County planners give preliminary approval for wind turbine project

WELLSBORO – The Tioga County Planning Commission granted conditional preliminary approval to Virginia-based AES Corp. to begin construction of a 124-turbine wind farm during its regular meeting last Wednesday.

AES’ application to build the turbines on more than 10,000 acres of leased private property on top of Armenia Mountain in both Tioga and Bradford counties had been tabled at the commission’s October meeting because it was “incomplete,” according to Tioga County planner Jim Weaver.

Project manager Robert White had asked the commission for “conditional approval” of the company’s application because of the impending deadlines for Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Index permits for threatened and endangered species.

According to Weaver, one of the first things an applicant has to do is “file a PNDI request.”

“They did that and had a hit for a creeping snowberry (on the endangered species list), so they had to do a search for it and they found it and now they are developing a mitigation plan to avoid it,” Weaver said.

Because one of the requirements is for “screening,” by providing fencing or trees, the planning commission granted AES a waiver, because, Weaver said it is “silly to think we could screen a 400-foot tower.”

According to Weaver, that requirement was established for industries “like Wardflex in Lawrence Township, to block the view of the more obtrusive elements of a factory or industry.”

The proposed project has been under fire from residents opposed to it because of concern about loss of the county‘s natural “view shed,” declining property values, environmental impact and intrusion of noise and light from the turbines.

AES officials must place pulsating red lights on 39 of the 124 towers, per FAA regulations.

AES now is “in process of submitting all the required studies to various agencies; they are reviewing the studies and once we get notification back from them, and they have signed off then that gets checked off that list of conditions,” he said.

Weaver said “there are three main components that we don‘t have any control over at the county level. Wetlands, jurisdictional determination by the Army Corps, and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System which covers erosion and sedimentation, and storm water.”

AES also must get wetlands permits which still are under review by the state Department of Environmental Protection and Tioga County Conservation Department; pass design standards on roads and the operations and maintenance building; get permits from the historic and archaeological resources by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; and three wildlife and environmental clearances from DEP, PNDI, the state Game Commissioner, state Fish and Boat Commission and Bureau of Forestry, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

AES already has received preliminary conditional approval from the Bradford County Planning Commission, according to White.

“We received preliminary conditional approval from them at their Nov. 20 regular meeting,” he said.

Weaver said the vote Wednesday was unanimous though the full board was not in attendance.

“We did have a quorum,” Weaver said. The only board member not in attendance was Bob DeCamp, who Weaver said has a “conflict of interest” because “one of the companies he is involved with has leased land to AES.”

“Bob DeCamp recused himself and has not attended any of the meetings since April 2007. He has been out of the loop for this decision,” Weaver said.

By Cheryl R. Clarke

Williamsport SunGazette

18 December 2007