The wind turbine issue is now out of the Potter County Planning Commissions’ hands and into the hands of the county’s board of commissioners.
The commission passed the amendments to the Subdivision And Land Development Ordinance (SALDO) pieceby piece Tuesday night during a 4-hour meeting, in which only a few residents voiced their opinions, most of which were more for regulatory purposes than bashing the turbines altogether.
Before the amendment process began, Mark Stevens, a licensed hydrogeologist with the Department of Environmental Protection, gave a presentation explaining how construction affects underground water supplies and advising of ways to avoid harming water supplies through requiring studies.
One of the main concerns with the amendments to the SALDO was that every restriction be backed up by scientific evidence. An early argument on what constituted scientific evidence compared with a scientist’s personal opinions foreshadowed further debates on which tests, studies and examples were considered for the amendments throughout the meeting.
During Stevens’ presentation, he pointed out that “everything we do must be substantiated in court.”
Charlotte Dietrich, planning director, quoted the Pennsylvania constitution as saying “the nuisance being restricted must in some way represent eminent harm.”
“I’m not saying it is a good law, but that is what we have to work with,” she said.
The question was brought up as to whether the commission would amend the SALDO or take another month to review the information again.
“I’ve been dealing with this for a year, and I’m sick of it,” said John Nordquist with no argument.
After deciding that the numbers on the model ordinance weren’t what they wanted, the commission began hashing out compromises.
A setback of 800 feet for a participating occupied building (someone allowing turbines) and a setback of 2,000 feet for a nonparticipating occupied building (someone against the turbines) were decided on with the approval vote of Bill Dean, John Nordquist, John McLaughlin and Rance Baxter.
The next item for consideration was setbacks from property lines, which Dean, Nordquist, McLaughlin and Mitch DeLong approved of at 800 feet.
The board then adopted having a setback of 200 feet from a well, spring or wetland, with all members but DeLong approving.
To prevent ground water contamination, the commission approved requiring an in-depth hydrogeological study at each turbine site, with Stevens defining what an in-depth study means. All members voted in favor.
They were also all in favor of giving the governing body the ability to grant a waiver of requirements.
After extensive discussion, Baxter, Dean and Marshal approved that the noise from the turbines would not exceed the ambient noise plus 12 decibels on the exterior wall of the closest nonparticipating occupied building. Chairwoman Wanda Shirk cast the deciding vote as Nordquist, McLaughlin and Marshall Hamilton were equally opposed.
All were in favor of keeping shadow flicker off all occupied buildings.
The turbine companies will be required to eliminate disruption to radio communications caused by the turbines. All were in favor of that as well as requiring a $5 million liability plan per turbine.
The terms of decommissioning are to be put into the lease. The foundations will not be required to be removed, but three feet of coverage must be placed over the concrete. All were in favor.
The dark skies will be protected, as the turbines must be designed to eliminate glare and light in occupied structures as well as not allowing light or indirect light to be visible from the Cherry Springs State Park. All were in favor.
The commission also approved amendments to the SALDO dealing with commercial communications towers, in which much of the restrictions mirrored those of the turbine amendments.
The SALDO will now go in front of the board of commissioners for consideration and approval.
“We’re happy the process is moving along,” said Bob White of AES Corp., one of the main companies looking to bring the turbines into Potter County.
15 March 2008
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