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Zoning board hears windmill testimony  

On a fittingly windy day, the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board heard testimony Wednesday from people in favor of and against requests for special exceptions that would allow the construction of 18-wind powered turbines in Georges and Springhill townships.

Several neighbors implored the zoning board to put conditions on the windmills if they are granted, expressing concerns about issues such as noise and flickering.

“I’m very concerned because one is going to go basically in my back yard,” said Tracy Lee.

Lee said she has learned wind energy only provides 1 percent of total energy. She said utilizing wind isn’t the most-efficient energy, and each windmill will uproot four acres. She also expressed concern that wildlife such as bears and snakes will go down the mountain as construction occurs.

“If these aren’t effective, we’re stuck with these atrocities on our beautiful mountain. There will be no more peace,” Lee said.

The 18 windmills the board is being asked to approve special exceptions for harness the wind for electricity. They are part of a project through the Portland, Ore.-based PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. called the South Chestnut Windpower Project. The project includes the construction of a total of 24 wind-powered turbines in Georges, Springhill and Wharton townships.

Wednesday’s hearing marked the fourth day of testimony on the matter, and was mostly limited to public comment.

In prior testimony, attorney Daniel Rullo, representing the corporation, asked the board to consider special exceptions for each of the 18 windmills, which all would be located on land zoned A-1, agricultural/rural. The six remaining windmills are not being considered by the zoning board because Wharton Township has its own zoning. Last week the Wharton Township Zoning Hearing Board gave its approval to the turbinesin that township.

Samuel Enfield, development director of PPM’s mid-Atlantic region, previously said the project includes 31/2 miles along Chestnut Ridge on elevations between 2,400 and 2,760 feet on private property. He said the elevations in the area are the highest in the state, which makes the site a good fit for windmills. The towers are similar to ones built in Mill Run in 2001, but are 12 feet higher at 262 feet. The blades are 145 feet long, for a total height of 406 feet.

The zoning ordinance only allows 250-foot towers, which necessitates the special exception for the size. PPM also is requesting several variance requests for setbacks to be less than 262 feet.

During the day, neighbors and others both for and against the request testified.

Eric Williams, who lives across the road from where one of the towers is slated for construction, said he was testifying for his way of life.

“When you build something I can hear inside my house 24 hours a day, it crosses a line,” Williams said.

Williams said he and his daughter like to sleep with their windows open and that will end. He said only a handful of the wind turbines are affecting local residents and he asked why the plans can’t be adjusted.

“I’m asking you to work with us as local residents. You have 24 of them. Can’t you tweak a couple to help us with the noise,” Williams said.

Another neighboring property owner, Larry Williams, said he would really like to see disapproval of the project.

“What about the people that live there?” Williams said. “I think we’re giving up too much for three jobs.”

In previous testimony, members of PPM said after the construction phase, which will employ hundreds, there would likely only be three full time positions at the windmills.

Speaking in favor of the project was former Fayette County Commissioner Sean M. Cavanagh, who pointed out that the towers would be a $90 million to $100 million project.

“We have to, as a nation and as a world, be proactive by using clean energy and renewable energy. We have to step up to the plate as a nation, as a state and as a county,” Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh said zoning board members have a tough job because they inevitably make one group happy and one group unhappy with every decision.

“It’s a pro, it’s a plus and it’s clean energy, and I ask the board to vote for this,” Cavanagh said.

Todd Casteel, an electrical contractor who makes his living in the fossil fuel industry, said the country has a responsibility to provide renewable energy. He said it is narrow-sighted for people not wanting the towers it their back yards.

Casteel said he has worked with PPM and they are concerned about the environment.

“It would be a tragedy to deny this request,” Casteel said.

Other neighbors expressed concerns about the effect of the towers on cellular telephone reception and the emission of waves.

The interpretive director of Laurel Caverns expressed concerns that the site has the potential to wipe out the entire population of Laurel Caverns brown bats.

Mary Hayduk, attorney for Laurel Caverns, asked that conditions be placed on the windmills that they not operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. between the dates of July 16 to Sept. 15.

At the conclusion of the testimony, zoning hearing board member Janet Nelson said it would be a very difficult decision for her and all comments would be addressed.

Zoning board member Mark Rafail said he hasn’t made a decision and he won’t do so until he has time to study the issue thoroughly. Rafail also said he plans to vote on one tower at a time. Zoning board Chairman Jim Killinger said he thinks it is important for the board to look at all the issues from all sides.

The zoning board then made a motion to make a decision within 45 days.

By Amy Zalar

The Herald-Standard

31 January 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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