NOXEN TWP. – As the $220 million Mehoopany Wind Farm project proceeds in southern Wyoming County, fears and concerns among some residents persist.
Flatbed trucks have been hauling massive rotors and towers to a staging area in Monroe Township since November. Roads are being built along the sides of the Endless Mountains in neighboring Noxen Township to accommodate nearly 90 wind turbines that British Petroleum will erect there and in three nearby towns later this year.
The wind farm project – the largest in the state in terms of energy capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association – means additional revenue for the cash-strapped municipalities, as well as the landowners who are leasing their mountainside properties to BP.
Thirty-five turbines are planned for Noxen Township, another 33 for Forkston Township, 18 for Eaton Township and two for Mehoopany Township.
Townships already have received $2,500 per turbine in permitting fees, and will receive additional annual payments of $1,000 per megawatt of energy capacity installed. As the host municipality, Noxen Township will see another $50,000 when the first turbine goes up.
And then there’s the jobs.
Amanda Abbott, director of government and public affairs for BP Wind Energy and Utility-Scale Solar, said about 250 people will be employed during wind farm construction and about five to 10 full-time positions will be created to monitor and maintain the farm when it becomes commercially operational.
Erection of the turbines is expected to begin in the spring, and they should all be connected to the energy grid at the Mehoopany substation near the Procter and Gamble plant in Washington Township by year’s end, she said.
When in full operation, the project will generate about 144 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 40,000 homes.
According to BP and wind energy advocates, wind farms provide safe, clean energy and can provide large volumes of electricity, sometimes at a lower cost than conventional sources.
But in Noxen Township, as in many other places across the country where wind farms have been proposed, the project has met resistance.
Flooding, tourism issues
Some residents doubt that tourists will still want to visit the majestic mountains when they’re pocked with giant, white, rotor-bearing towers protruding high above the tree line. They worry that the loss of mountainside forest will worsen flooding problems in the towns below.
“My main concerns are (storm water) runoff and the destruction of our mountains,” said Cathie Pauley, president of the Noxen Historical and Community Association and a recently elected township supervisor.
Pauley said the town was “decimated” by flooding in 2006 and storm water runoff remains a problem, often causing Bowman’s Creek to spill over its banks.
New mountain roads and cement turbine pads will only worsen the problem, she said.
“I fear for the people in this town. I don’t like being dependent on foreign oil, but there’s a right place and a wrong place for everything. I just think they’re opening a can of worms for us that we’re not going to be able to survive,” Pauley said.
And Pauley doubts the additional revenue from BP will compensate for a loss of tourism or the aesthetic value of living there.
Her father, Edgar Engelman, founded the former Endless Mountains Tourism Promotion because he realized the region was “industry unfriendly” and promoting the beauty of the mountains was the best shot at boosting the area economy.
Pauley noted that the turbine will be more than 300 feet high. “Nobody’s going to want to come here to see windmills,” she said.
Altering the landscape
Nancy Lane, 67, said her daughter once worked in the wind energy industry in a non-profit, humanitarian capacity and commented about 15 years ago that the mountain would be a perfect place for wind turbines.
Still, Lane is wary. “You just don’t know how it will affect us as a small town,” she said.
Sandy Simons, president of the Noxen Ladies Auxiliary, also said she’s bothered by the changing landscape and the potential for increased flooding.
“I don’t like the idea of what they’re doing to the town, trees being cut and nothing put in their place. I feel sorry for the people in town with all the flooding, and with these new roads, it’s going to get worse,” said Simons, 57.
Abbott said BP’s plans include best management practices to control erosion and sedimentation, and those plans have been approved by the Wyoming County Conservation District and the state Department of Environmental Protection. Some examples of the controls to be installed are compost filter socks, water bars and rock check dams to provide protection both during and after construction and will prevent additional run-off, she said.
Local wildlife artist Chuck Kovalick, 69, said he and his wife turned down BP’s offer to lease their mountainside hunting property, on which they have a cabin. “We didn’t want to have to look at them, but our neighbors (leased their land),” he said.
He is also concerned about hunting in the area as well as the bird population, noting that there are a lot of low-flying geese and ravens in the area, as well as “a bald eagle or two. … I guess it’s wait and see. But once they’re up, it’ll be too late.”
BP said it works with the state Game Commission to minimize any harm to wildlife through engineering design changes, technology and other elements.
And Abbott said BP has been in communication with members of the South Mountain Land Association, which uses mountainside land owned by Deep Park Lumber for hunting, about the status of the project and to answer any questions.
Kovalick has used the mountains as a backdrop in many a wildlife painting, and he’s not thrilled that the landscape will be changing. “No more just mountaintops. Now it’ll be windmills. But it’s progress, and we can’t do anything about it,” he said.
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