The winds of change soon may be blowing in Lycoming County.
Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC plans to submit an application to the county to build a commercial electricity-generating wind farm on the Laurel Hill Ridge in Jackson and McIntyre townships.
The application will be submitted within days to county zoning administrator to Fred G. Pfeiffer, Robert Charlebois, managing director of parent company Catamount Energy Corp. of Rutland, Vt., said Wednesday.
The company proposed the project about four years ago. At the time, the county’s zoning ordinance permitted wind farm development in agriculture and countryside zoning districts by right, and in resource protection zones by a special exception granted by the county Zoning Hearing Board.
Because a large portion of the proposed project was in a resource protection zone, the company applied to the Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception permit.
After a hearing lasting nearly a year-and-a-half, and including the testimony of dozens of experts and local citizens, among them a group who aggressively opposed the project, the board rejected the application.
The decision later was upheld in county court. The wind energy company appealed the court ruling.
Last year, the county commissioners approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance which allows wind energy development in resource protection zones. The amendment cleared the way for the company to re-apply through the zoning administrator, Charlebois said.
The company also dropped its appeal, he said.
“We pulled our appeal because there is now a regulatory path to securing a permit as a result of the amendment change,” Charlebois said. “(Dropping the appeal) is an effort to not burden the court any longer.”
Charlebois said the county’s zoning ordinance “is exhaustive” and the application process “extensive.” The company is doing everything it can to ensure the project is in line with the ordinance, he said.
“We’ve done extensive civil engineering to prepare for the application. This is no easy task to apply under this ordinance.” Charlebois said. “We have been working very, very hard to satisfy every single provision in the ordinance.”
“(The wind ordinance) is not a one-side ordinance that makes it easy for anyone to apply,” county Department of Planning and Community Development director Kurt Hausammann Jr. said. “We believe it is a well-rounded ordinance that protects the county and residents while providing a mechanism for wind energy to take place.”
Charlebois said the company still intends to honor an agreement with Jackson and McIntyre municipal governments in which the company promised to pay the townships $2 million over 20 years. The money will be divided between the townships according to how many wind towers are built in each.
“We fully intend and will comply with our agreement with the townships,” Charlebois said. “That’s unequivocal.”
“We notified the townships that in no uncertain terms that we would abide by our commitment,” he said. “We made a commitment to those folks and we intend to keep it.’”
According to Hausammann, once an application is submitted to the zoning administrator, the administrator has 30 days to decide whether the application has been completed.
After the application has been completed, the administrator has up to 75 days to determine whether the project complies with the zoning ordinance.
The project’s land development plans must then be submitted to the county Planning Commission, which has 90 days to approve or deny the plans, Hausammann said.
By David Thompson
8 February 2008
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