The Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board has unanimously denied a special exception request that would have allowed the construction of 18 wind-powered turbines in Georges and Springhill townships.
Calling the decision the “hardest the board has had to make,” board Chairman Jim Killinger issued a statement saying the choice to deny the special exception was made in the interest of Fayette County – its residents and for those who visit – while acknowledging the board cannot make everyone happy with its ruling.
The denial of a special exception for a wind-powered electricity generating facility and a variance from height and setback requirements affects a significant portion of a project through the Portland, Ore.-based PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. called the South Chestnut Windpower Project. The plan included construction of a total of 24 wind-powered turbines in Georges, Springhill and Wharton townships.
The six windmills in Wharton Township were not part of the county zoning board decision because Wharton Township has its owns zoning. The Wharton Township board previously gave approval for those windmills.
The denial was made Wednesday afternoon with Killinger, Janet Nelson and Mark Rafail voting against the request.
“All the board members have spent much time looking at all the issues from the petitioners and objectors. In doing so, the board’s unanimous decision was applied to the zoning ordinance, case law, court decisions and the feelings of Fayette County residents,” Killinger said.
“Our mountain is beautiful, pristine and full of protected and non-protected birds, bats and other animals,” he continued. “We in Fayette County are the caretakers of our county and its wildlife. We are charged with this so future generations can enjoy what we have today which was passed down to use from past generations.”
The windmills the board was being asked to approve harness the wind for electricity. Four days of testimony was held on the matter, and people both in favor of and against the project testified.
Those who testified included company officials and neighbors, as well as owners of Laurel Caverns, who expressed concern that locating the windmills at the site could potentially kill the entire bat population at the caverns.
All the windmills were to be located on land zoned A-1, agricultural/rural.
Samuel Enfield, development director of PPM’s mid-Atlantic region, testified that the project included 3 1/2 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 at 262 feet are 12 feet higher. 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 was requesting several variance requests for setbacks to be less than 262 feet.
Throughout testimony, property owners expressed concerns about noise and flickering from the turbines.
Although Enfield provided drawings reflecting how visible the windmills would be from five miles away during one day of testimony, Robert Adamovich suggested the windmills would be visible at much greater distances.
The owner of the historic Summit Inn in Uniontown said people visit the hotel for the view and to see the mountains.
“They want to see the mountains and not these windmills,” said Karen Harris.
Larry Williams, who lives across the street from one of the proposed building sites for the windmills, and testified on two separate days, said he believes he will get flickering at his home.
He asked Enfield if anyone spoke to the people of Mill Run about the impact those windmills have had to the area. Williams said he spoke to a man who allowed a windmill to be constructed on his property and the man said he wished he hadn’t.
“It’s like that little community was tore apart,” Williams said.
Another neighboring property owner expressed concerns about possible cancer risks and health problems for people and animals in close proximity to the windmills.
Others testified that they felt the windmills would be a benefit to the area.
Killinger said he personally spent hours daily going over files, notes from hearings and other issues presented to the board by everyone in favor of and against the request.
By Amy Zalar
22 February 2008
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