Gamesa Energy USA’s proposed 10 to 15 turbine wind farm on borough watershed property found its way once again on council’s agenda last evening. The proposal looks to generate between $3 to $5 million over the projects 30 year life span for the borough.
Gamesa Project Developer Josh Framel was on hand to answer questions and update the proposed lease agreement with the borough.
Tyrone resident Dave Panasiti addressed council during the public comment section of the agenda about his and other residents concerns over a wind farm site on watershed property. Panasiti expressed worry over council “jumping the gun” with a yes or no vote based on the informal survey taken by borough registered voters at the April 22 primary, that he termed as not being “scientific.”
“I would of taken the votes from people who pay real estate taxes for one thing,” said Panasiti to council. “And I would of taken the votes from those who pay water bills.”
He added, “I’m sure you’re not going to take the vote of 50 percent of the people that are for or against. This is something that could divide this town, like the low-income housing projects that we have that lowered values on houses – this is a big decision.”
The results of the borough’s non-binding wind farm survey was 55 percent in favor of the project and 45 percent opposed. A total of 1,094 borough voters took the survey.
Panasiti expressed that he felt most of the people who took the survey might have been elderly residents who don’t want to see their taxes raised or the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy taking money from their pockets.
He also didn’t think the people were informed “fully,” since Gamesa and borough council still don’t have all the details worked out in the proposed lease agreement.
With people in this area on a fixed or low income, he said people would vote for something that’s going to bring in “free money.”
“When I talked to older people about this, I was asking if they were for it,” said Panasiti. “They said, ‘Well, what’s the difference?’ The difference is the value of your home and everything that you’ve put into it.”
Panasiti said that his biggest concern is the possibilities of something disastrous happening on the watershed due to the wind farm’s construction and/or operation. He compared it to the amount of money that was spent on the pyrite problem during the construction of the new extension of I-99 from Bald Eagle to State College.
“I find it amazing that DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) is kind of side-stepping and allowing this to go through, when they (DEP) won’t even let you breathe on watershed property anywhere,” noted Panasiti.
He continued, “I want to know if there’s any guarantees from Josh (Framel), you (council), or with DEP that if something happens to that watershed, I won’t lose the value of my home. That’s the biggest thing that I think all of you should be concerned with.”
Framel informed council and attendees that Gamesa and the borough are close to a final form of the proposed lease agreement. He said that Gamesa has been working with Tyrone Borough Solicitor Larry Clapper and Borough Manager Sharon Dannaway involving language regarding watershed protection.
“I know that was the council’s first concern when we first brought this up a year and half ago,” said Framel. “The language includes recent additions to soil testing, concerns about iron pyrite, and incorporating site plan approval.”
He added, “If the borough would approve the lease, they wouldn’t see a truck the next day. This is an agreement with Gamesa to start the process. We’d have a site plan approval to see where they (windmills) would go, the (borough) engineer would review that, and it’s all part of the lease agreement – it’s not a green light to do whatever we want.”
Borough officials and its engineer, CET Engineering, and forester Paul Noll, would be working closely with Gamesa during the proposed project.
Councilperson Pat Stoner said that she wanted to know what is exactly in the lease about the watershed. Framel informed her and the rest of council that he will provide the updated copy of the agreement to those on council who may not have it yet.
Stoner told Framel that she has noticed a change with Gamesa’s approach to watershed protection since concerns have been raised, but Framel said “that’s from the results of executive sessions with council and things that were brought up and addressed.”
Panasiti asked council if it has looked into municipal bonds, so that the borough could float its own bonds to build its own wind farm. He said he sees a variance of $3 to $5 million over 30 years for Tyrone, and sees Gamesa earning $100 to $150 million.
“That seems like giving the rights to them, when we have those rights,” noted Panasiti. “We have the electricity that we could sell back and maybe that would enhance us to bring in more business.”
He added, “Nothing against them (Gamesa), they’re one of the only companies ever to step forward and say ‘we’ll give you something back for it.’ I’m not for or against it at this point, except for the fact that I want to see what’s best for this town – this town’s always getting the back end of these deals.”
Framel told council that this is why he makes himself available to council and its residents, to be “proactive” and continue to discuss what the next steps are in the decision process.
By Kris Yaniello
13 May 2008
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