Several people in favor of a windmill project for Wharton, Springhill and Georges townships brought their case Tuesday to the Fayette County commissioners.
Speaking during public comment of the commissioner’s agenda meeting, people representing carpenter’s unions and themselves spoke about the need for the county to have the South Chestnut Wind Project.
In February, the county zoning hearing board unanimously denied a special exception request that would have allowed the construction of 18 wind-powered turbines in Georges and Springhill townships.
Neil Brown, who presented the commissioners with a list of 100 signatures of people in favor of the turbines, said he sat through the zoning hearings but didn’t speak because he thought it would be approved.
“I think it was a mistake … turning it down. It’s going to happen sometime,” Brown said.
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 company has since appealed the denial, saying the zoning board improperly denied the request. The zoning ordinance allows windmills of up to 250 feet in height, but the current industry standards are now 262 feet.
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 in Wharton Township, 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.
Although the Wharton Township zoning board approved the request for the windmills in that township, the project can’t proceed without all the windmills for the project. Several people also spoke Monday during the Wharton Township meeting in favor of the project.
Several people said clean energy is needed, especially now because of soaring gasoline prices.
Commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky said he recently took a tour of a wind farm in Somerset County, and said he is in total support of such a project in Fayette County.
Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites said the case was handled by the zoning board and not in the commissioner’s hands, but said he didn’t want to comment because at some point the commissioners may hold a zoning hearing on the matter.
The commissioners also changed Thursday’s agenda to include a motion to consider an emergency liquid fuels allocation for Menallen Township to repair a bridge off Route 51.
The township is requesting $30,000 to repair the bridge, which Zapotosky said provides access to a business with 24 employees.
Both Zapotosky and Vicites visited the site. Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink said she wasn’t aware of the problem, adding that she could have visited the site on the way to her home in Redstone Township. Zimmerlink said she should have been informed about the issue. Both Zapotosky and Vicites said they hadn’t seen the paperwork requesting the funds prior to Tuesday.
“All three Menallen Township supervisors know me. They may not like me, but they know me,” Zimmerlink said.
Zimmerlink then made a motion to amend the agenda for Thursday to place the request on it. Vicites said the commissioners need to “scope out the liquid fuel funds” to determine how much they can allocate to the township for the bridge repairs. The total estimated cost of the project is $39,541.
By Amy Zalar
7 May 2008
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