SOMERSET – A hearing about the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm project brought out friends and foes Thursday evening.
Approximately 250 people attended with more than 50 giving testimony on a potential project permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The hearing was held at the Somerset Junior/Senior High School.
“When we evaluate a permit, we’re evaluating it as an individual Army Corps of Engineers permit and we are looking at a full range of public interest factors,” said Scott Hans, chief of the corps regulatory branch in Pittsburgh. “The focus obviously is on the impact to aquatic resources. But we do consider general environmental concerns.”
Developer Gamesa Energy USA is seeking an OK from the corps on a wetlands mitigation plan for a 30-turbine project set for parts of Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County and Napier Township in Bedford County.
A total of eight wetlands and watercourses are expected to be either permanently or temporarily impacted by the construction of the project. The majority of the wetlands in the 1,600-acre project area are in Central City’s watershed.
The project has been in the permit process for more than four years, with a crucial stormwater management plan now in a fourth cycle with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP had previously rejected the proposal on technical and environmental grounds.
“I think we feel very confident in the science of this project,” said Michael Peck, director of external relations for Gamesa. “It’s probably one of the most looked-at projects in the history of the country. This is a step that really crosses the Ts and dots the Is, but we really believe in our science. We feel comfortable in our position.”
Opponents of the project are afraid a green light from the corps will also be seen as a green light for the DEP despite the potential for a negative impact on plants, animals and nearby water sources.
“We haven’t been good stewards of what God gave us,” Bedford County resident William Armor said. “I’m concerned about the impact these turbines will have. I don’t know if it will impact me or any of my neighbors. I don’t know if anybody does.”
The hearing slanted largely in favor of those opposed to the project, with testimony for the project coming from a handful of professional consultants, company representatives and landowners.
Speaking was limited to three minutes per person with a number of people running over the allotted time. However, corps representatives said that those who wished to finish their comments or make an additional statement later could do so.
Opponents included Save Our Allegheny Ridges, the Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society, Jack Buchan and Joseph Comiskey.
“We have some of the top experts in the country on our side on this matter,” said Buchan. A number of individuals submitted written affidavits and position papers in addition to giving oral testimony, he said.
Corps representatives said that the permit approval could take some time. Based upon previous studies that showed potential impact to species like the federally protected Indiana bat, a full study is currently under way on that issue, Hans said.
“The formal consultation of the impact is currently under way,” he said. The assessment is being conducted in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an opinion is expected on Sept. 17, according to a corps statement.
The corps will continue to take comments on the project until Aug. 23 by mail or e-mail.
Questions or comments about the hearing and permit should be directed to Allen Edris, regulatory project manager, at (412) 395-7158 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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