The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a letter of deficiencies about the controversial Shaffer Mountain Wind project, The Tribune-Democrat has learned.
The nine-page technical review letter, dated Feb. 19, raises a list of concerns about Gamesa’s post-construction stormwater management plan, required to gain DEP’s national pollutant discharge elimination system permit.
It reiterates many of the issues raised by citizens in hearings and in comments to the DEP.
The project would place 30 wind turbines atop Shaffer Mountain, a Somerset County ridge that is part of the Allegheny Front.
Aquatic resources and possible environmental impacts have not been sufficiently addressed, the DEP says. Also, the company needs to provide more details on alternative siting of the project, such as a nearby strip mine.
Regional DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said the letter, the first sent to the company in its attempt to gain a permit, is not a permit denial.
“It is an ongoing conversation,” she said.
Project Manager Tim Vought said the company is prepared to answer all the questions.
“We are seeing this as an opportunity to make our application more clear,” he said. This also gives the company another chance to answer worried residents, Vought said.
The correspondence is part of the back-and-forth that happens during an application for a state permit, Vought added.
“When we build this project, it will be the best we can build,” he said.
Property owner Jack Buchan said he and others opposed to the Shaffer Mountain Wind farm’s proposed siting see the letter as a move in the right direction.
“They are not disclosing all the wetlands, the limits of the disturbance or where they plan to cross tributaries,” Buchan said, adding that “tens of thousands of dollars” have been spent by private citizens to gather input such as expert analysis.
“Not only is it frustrating, it is putting a huge financial burden on a group of people,” he said.
Buchan said the issue is at least making state legislators aware of a need for state regulations, such as those in place in West Virginia.
If Gamesa is awarded a permit, Buchan believes it would set a free-for-all precedent at potential industrial wind sites across Pennsylvania.
“If they can permit this – a site with endangered species, exceptional value streams, a migration corridor and golden eagle study – they can go anywhere in the state,” he said.
The department also has asked the wind company to provide an update on communication with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which aired concerns about impacts to important birding areas, bald eagles, spring and fall migration of birds and bats and endangered Indiana bats.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has questioned the company about impacts to Indiana bats and bird migration.
DEP also recommended that Gamesa respond to 22 questions gathered through the department’s public comment period. Many of them deal with concerns about water quality, forest fragmentation and wildlife habitat. Gamesa has 60 days to respond.
By Kecia Bal
23 February 2008
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