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Wind-powered turbine company alleges bias

An Oregon-based company contends the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board’s rejection of its request for a special exception and variances for 24 wind-powered turbines in Georges and Springhill townships was biased.

On Wednesday, PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. of Portland asked a judge to assume jurisdiction over its request and to reverse the board’s March 11 denial.

“Our concern is whether we think this issue can get a balanced hearing or consideration by the zoning hearing board,” said Sam Enfield, project manager, shortly after PPM filed its appeal yesterday. “Our concern is that we could not get a fair hearing. We want a third party to take a look at how they handled the issue.”

PPM, which has offices in Perryopolis, planned to use the wind turbines to produce electricity for its South Chestnut Ridge Windpower Project. According to yesterday’s notice of appeal, the 24 windmills were part of a total of 27 that were to be installed over a 3.5-mile section of Chestnut Ridge in Wharton, Georges and Springhill townships.

Wharton, which has its own zoning regulations, approved the request in January. Zoning in Georges and Springhill falls under the county.

PPM requested variances so the turbines can be a total of 262.5 feet high, or 12.5 feet higher than is permitted under the county’s zoning ordinance.

It wanted variances from minimum property-line setbacks for 10 of the turbines. According to the appeal, all but one of the setbacks were on properties of consenting landowners.

Enfield yesterday said PPM’s request should have been approved because it met all of the county’s conditions for windmills on land zoned for agricultural use, except for minimal height and setback variations.

In denying PPM’s request for the variations, the board noted that PPM failed to prove the denials would create any hardships, other than loss of profits. The board said it based its ruling partially on residents’ objections, which included concerns the turbines would destroy Chestnut Ridge’s scenic view, negatively impact tourism, and kill bats and birds.

In its appeal, PPM contends the board erred in finding that the company’s only hardship was reduced profits. PPM also said the board overstepped its authority by failing to consider “reasonable conditions and safeguards” to address residents’ concerns, an option it said the board is permitted to exercise under the zoning ordinance.

PPM alleged the board and its solicitor, Gretchen Mundorff, were opposed to its request from the outset.

“As a result of the conduct of the board through, among other things, the actions of its solicitor in conducting herself in an adversarial role to appellants applications, appellants have not, and cannot, receive a fair and impartial hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board of Fayette County,” wrote PPM’s attorneys in the appeal.

Mundorff could not be reached yesterday for comment.

By Liz Zemba

Tribune-Review

10 April 2008