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Wind gets two thumbs-up; Challenges denied by county Zoning Hearing Board  

“Finally.”

That was the lone word uttered by Hughesville resident Robert Myers following a Lycoming County Zoning Hearing Board hearing Wednesday in the commissioners board room at the Executive Plaza.

During the hearing, the board denied two challenges to a county zoning amendment allowing wind energy development in resource protection zoning districts.

For the last six years, Myers has been on a roller coaster ride in his attempt to see wind development on property he owns on Laurel Hill Ridge in Jackson Township.

Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC proposed building more than 30 electricity-generating wind turbines on a seven-mile section of the ridge, including Myers’ property, but the project met with stiff opposition from a small but vocal group of local residents.

The project initially was shot down when the Zoning Hearing Board denied a special exception permit for the company to build the turbines. At the time, a special exception was required for wind energy projects in resource protection zones.

The board’s decision was upheld in county court. But, last year, county commissioners approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance that allowed wind energy development in resource protection zones.

Early this year, the wind energy company filed an application for a zoning permit to build the turbines. After the permit was approved by county zoning administrator Fred G. Pfeiffer, it was appealed by a group of Jackson Township residents, including Frank and Judi Piccolella.

The legal validity of the ordinance also was challenged by Jackson Township landowner Arthur Plaxton.

Both cases were heard Wednesday.

During his testimony, Piccolella alleged instances in which Pfeiffer approved the application while it was incomplete. In fact, pages were missing in the application, he said.

He also said Pfeiffer erred in approving the application because resource protection zones do not allow intensive development.

Other residents testified, including Gene Koonz, who argued that the ordinance simply was a way of appeasing a wealthy company at the expense of a beautiful ridgeline.

Koonz said he did not believe the wind energy project would “pay its way.”

John Bruchlacher Jr. argued the project would cause serious flooding and pollution issues in streams not identified in the application.

Attorney Charles F. “Skip” Greevy III, speaking on behalf of the commissioners and the county Planning Commission, disagreed.

According to Greevy, Pfeiffer followed legal procedures in approving the permit application.

He added that many of the issues brought up by those opposing the permit would be addressed during the land development approval process before the Planning Commission.

Plaxton argued that county court Judge Nancy Butts already had determined that the Laurel Hill project was detrimental to the public’s health, safety and welfare. Because of that, the ordinance allowing it was invalid, he said.

Plaxton also argued that the county’s often-cited assertion that it must allow wind energy somewhere in the county was untrue. No case law existed that supported such a claim, he said.

Greevy argued that Butts’ decision was made while the law regarding wind energy was different. Her ruling was made while wind development was allowed only by special exception, he said.

“The law has changed and (wind development) does meet the criteria, now,” he said.

Greevy added that the board does not have the right to repeal laws passed by a legislative entity such as the county commissioners.

The board unanimously denied both challenges.

“We’re extraordinarily pleased with the decision,” Robert Charlebois, managing director for Laurel Hill Wind Energy, said. “This has been a very, very long process and we’re glad to finally realize a resolution on the zoning permit.

“This project is going to be a great benefit to the county, township and state by providing clean, renewable, affordable energy, which we desperately need in this energy environment,” he said.

Plaxton was not so pleased.

“The board made a major error of law and abused its discretion,” he said.

Piccolella said he planned to appeal the decision in court.

By David Thompson

Williamsport SunGazette

24 July 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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