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Residents file appeal to block farm permit

Eight Jackson Township residents have appealed a zoning permit approved for a commercial wind farm proposed in northern Lycoming County.

The group – Frank Piccolella, Judi Piccolella, Walter Wroblewski, Gene Koonz, Dorothy Koonz, John E. Brucklacher Jr., Beverly Brucklacher and John E. Brucklacher III – signed their names to a single appeal involving Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC’s zoning permit application.

The company applied for the permit to build more than 30 electricity-generating wind turbines on a seven-mile section of the Laurel Hill Ridge in Jackson and McIntyre townships.

The application was approved May 9 by county zoning administrator Fred G. Pfeiffer.

The appeal cites alleged errors in the application as reasons why the county Zoning Hearing Board, which has jurisdiction in zoning permit application appeals, should uphold the appeal.

The appeal is another chapter in a saga that has lasted several years. Laurel Hill Wind Energy’s parent company, Catamount Energy Corp. of Rutland, Vt., proposed building a wind farm on the ridge several years ago and applied for a special exception permit to move forward with the project.

The permit was needed because most of the proposed project area was designated a resource protection zoning district. At the time, the county zoning ordinance allowed certain types of development in resource protection zones only by special exception permit approved by the Zoning Hearing Board.

After a hearing lasting almost a year-and-a-half, the board denied the permit application. The company appealed the decision in court, but it was upheld by county court judge Nancy Butts.

The company appealed Butts’ decision in Commonwealth Court, but dropped the appeal after the county commissioners approved changing the county zoning ordinance to allow wind energy development in resource protection zones.

The company applied for a zoning permit under the amended ordinance in February. Pfeiffer sent letters notifying interested parties that he had approved the application on May 9, which started a 30-day clock for those wishing to appeal the application approval.

“We appreciate the manifold difficulties Mr. Pfeiffer faced as zoning administrator and the previous consideration given to the wind energy project by the (Zoning Hearing) Board,” the appeal stated. “However, the shortcomings of the application are both numerous and serious enough to merit the Board’s reversal of the zoning administrator’s approval.”

The board will probably consider the issue during its meeting on July 23, Pfeiffer said Wednesday.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the commissioners board room on the first floor of the executive plaza, he said.

By David Thompson

Williamsport SunGazette

12 June 2008