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State, federal agencies still reviewing Shaffer wind farm proposal

The controversial Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm is now in its fourth year of the permitting cycle, making it one of the longer periods – if not the longest – a proposal has been reviewed by state and federal agencies.

Gamesa Energy USA is the developer of the proposed 30-turbine project, which is set for 1,600 acres spread throughout northern Somerset County and part of Bedford County.

“Right now we’re waiting for a final report from the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Their priority is protecting the natural resources and they’re going to take the time they need.”

Once the service makes a final report, the Corps will either issue or deny a permit. The Corps is examining the project’s wetlands mitigation plan, but takes into consideration general environmental concerns, including threats to endangered species.

Opponents of the project maintain that the turbines could harm animals, including the federally protected Indiana bat, migrating birds of prey such as the threatened golden eagle and endangered bald eagle and damage valuable streams and forest.

Company officials have long maintained the project will have minimal impact on the environment and will meet rigorous best-management practices during construction.

The Corps held a public permit hearing for the project on Aug. 12 following years of review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The department is responsible for reviewing a crucial stormwater management plan that is now in a fourth permitting cycle. The department had previously rejected the proposal on technical and environmental grounds.

While the permit is nominally about water management, the department — like the Corps – uses the process to evaluate environmental impacts on plants, animals and nearby water sources.

The service’s report is likely being slowed by the review of a previous study that found a breeding population of Indiana bats near the project site, Corps officials said.

The DEP did not return numerous calls for comment.