SOMERSET – A wind farm project stalled in the permitting process for more than three years will again come before the public at yet another hearing set for today at Somerset Area High School.
Opponents and supporters of the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm, a 30-turbine facility proposed by Gamesa Energy USA, are expected to testify at the hearing held by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps has been brought into the permitting review because of the project’s anticipated impact on wetlands and water resources, said Scott Hans, regional chief of the Army Corps Pittsburgh Division.
“We’ve been involved for some time.
“The applicant has come to us and asked us to identity water sources in the project area,” Hans said.
Gamesa then made changes to reduce the impact on water sources as much as possible and the Army Corps is now seeking comment on the revised permit, he said.
Terming the impact by the wind farm as “fairly minimal,” Hans said some water sources will be impacted only during construction of the windmill facility while others, including wetlands and at least one stream, will be permanently impacted.
In August 2007, an estimated 450 people turned out for a public hearing on the same project held by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The rancorous meeting, which brought police to help maintain order, lasted four hours with few expressing support for the project.
The hearing was part of DEP’s review of Gamesa’s permit for a stormwater management plan during construction.
But DEP is using the process to evaluate any environmental impact as a result of the windmills.
DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said the permitting process continues and as late as June 30 a technical review letter was sent to Gamesa seeking clarification in a number of areas.
According to the Army Corps public hearing notice, 0.11 acres of wetlands will be eliminated and Gamesa will have to take steps to develop those wetlands elsewhere.
The wetlands will be eliminated due to vegetative clearing along a new transmission line corridor.
Also permanently impacted for an access road will be 62 linear feet of stream channel.
Project construction will have temporary impact on 0.14 acres of emergent wetlands and 116 linear feet of six stream channels within an existing transmission line corridor.
In February 2009, the Army Corps determined the project “may affect” the Indiana bat, which is on the federal list of endangered species.
The Army Corps is consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the bat and a biological opinion is expected in mid-September, the notice states.
Gamesa spokesman Michael Peck said Wednesday that he and other representatives will be at the hearing but will not offer testimony.
“We’ll be there to listen respectfully, and we’ll provide technical answers if requested,” he said.
Jack Buchon of Sensible Wind Solutions, an outspoken opponent of the project, will present testimony on potential impact on the water and wetlands issues and the Indiana bat if the turbines are built.
“It’s a travesty if this thing goes in out there,” Buchon said.
“I’ll be speaking, urging the Army Corps to deny the permit and quelch the project,” Buchon said.
Also expected at the hearing will be representatives of the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, a site near Shaffer Mountain where thousands visit annually to see eagles and hawks migrating along the ridge.
The group ran an advertisement in Wednesday’s Tribune-Democrat expressing concern for the birds and raptors along the flight corridor should the windmills be built.
The hearing three years ago had more than 50 people testifying.
Hans noted that the amount of testimony will determine the time limit placed on each speaker.
If only a few register, each could be given as much as five minutes, but if the number is substantial, the limit will be reduced to two minutes, he said.
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