TYRONE – A jet circling overhead, a neighbor’s thumping bass or a train’s brakes squealing as it rounds a curve.
These are scenarios Todd Stull and Clair Chappell use to describe how the noise of spinning wind turbines have shattered their once idyllic life in the mountains.
“We cannot escape the noise,” Stull said. “This issue cannot be trivialized. It’s nothing short of a pollution problem.”
Stull and Chappell, who live next to the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm in Blue Knob, warned borough residents not to chose a similar fate during a public forum Wednesday in Tyrone.
The “Save Ice Mountain” group, which organized the forum, has turned in more than 1,400 signatures against the lease of property to Gamesa Energy USA.
Gamesa wants to build a wind farm in Centre and Blair counties that would include 25 windmills standing as high as 404 feet when a blade is at its peak.
Most of the project, known as Sandy Ridge Wind Farm, would be located in Snyder Township, Blair County, with a smaller portion in Taylor Township.
If approved, the Taylor portion of the project could begin converting wind to energy by the end of 2009.
According to Gamesa, the wind farm would generate enough energy to power 15,000 homes and would have a footprint of 58 acres.
Josh Framel, Gamesa project manager, said the environmental and economic benefits of wind power are indisputable.
“Wind farms leave no lasting legacy like the abandoned strip mines that dot our landscape and pollute our waterways,” he said. “And all of Gamesa’s siting decisions are based on sound science.”
Although the lease agreement with Gamesa could mean at least $100,000 annually for Tyrone’s water authority, opponents say the project would have a profound impact on quality of life for animals and humans.
Kotala, president of Juniata Valley Audubon, said he is especially concerned about the fragmentation of interior forest by the construction of turbines, roadways and substations.
Ice Mountain, where a portion of the windfarm will be built, is also unbroken forest and a major migration route of the endangered golden eagle.
“The devastating effects of windfarms on wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation outweigh any environmental benefit of wind power,” he said.
Besides Kotala, featured speakers included Dan Boone, a conservation biologist from Maryland; Audubon Pennsylvania hawk expert Kim Van Fleet; and Laura Jackson, founder of Save Our Allegheny Ridges.
Boone showed projections of windfarm development in the U.S. He said that windfarms ultimately won’t reduce emissions or the state’s reliance on coal-generated electricity.
Moreover, it would take 13,000 turbines to cover only 10 percent of energy in 2030 and would do little to curb the looming energy crisis, he said.
Borough officials in both townships continue to negotiate with the wind power developer. An informal poll is slated to coincide with the April 22 primary election to gauge voter’s views on the project.
“(The poll) will give the borough a better show of public opinion before they make any decisions,” Kotala said.
Meanwhile, Chappell is learning to live next to a 40-turbine windfarm, but he said Tyrone still has time to halt Gamesa’s plan.
“This project swooped in, and we didn’t have the foresight to see it coming,” Chappell said. “Tyrone needs to do their homework and find out if it’s the right thing to do … and keep in mind that you don’t have to do it today.”
By Cori Bolger
27 March 2008
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