WINDBER – Developers have pulled the plug on the 60-megawatt Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm project.
“Because of a combination of factors, including uncertainty surrounding federal policies, Gamesa has decided to halt development plans for its proposed Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm in Somerset County,” Gamesa Energy U.S.A. spokesman David Rosenberg said in a statement sent to The Tribune-Democrat.
The decision was celebrated by opponents who had been fighting the company for six years.
“I feel great because of the fact that we went up against insurmountable odds,” Shaffer Mountain resident Joseph J. Cominsky said Monday. “There is a pristine piece of wilderness that should be preserved and will be preserved.”
Cominsky was the first to raise concerns about the proposed 30-turbine wind farm in 2006, taking his message to township supervisors meetings in Ogle, Paint and Shade townships. Enlisting support, he helped opponents organize as Save Our Mountain and raise money for the fight.
Meanwhile he continued his impassioned pleas at township supervisors and Windber Area Authority meetings. He collapsed and was taken by ambulance from one Paint Township meeting.
“I had two heart attacks over this,” he said. “I should be dead.”
As opposition grew, hundreds came out to public hearings in June 2007 at Pitt-Johnstown and in August 2007 and again in August 2010 at Somerset Area High School.
An endangered Indiana bat found dead last September under a wind turbine near Lilly interrupted Shaffer Mountain’s permitting process while U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators reviewed the situation. Shaffer Mountain has an Indiana bat maternity colony and is on the same migratory pathway as the Lilly turbine, experts said.
Shaffer Mountain property owner Richard Bair said Gamesa’s decision to scrap the project will cost him as much as $750,000 over the next 30 years.
Bair blames the Fish and Wildlife Service’s pending ruling.
“A senior official told them the service would not give them a valid green light,” Bair said.
He believes the federal agency reacted to a threatened lawsuit by opposition groups Sensible Wind Solutions, Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited and The Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society. In November, the Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal law firm of Washington, D.C., issued a warning of potential civil action if a reassessment was not undertaken.
Shaffer Mountain never was a good location for a wind farm, opposition leader Jack Buchen of Johnstown said.
“This thing should never have been sited up there,” Buchen said. “There are so many problems up there. We fought them with science and legal representation.”
Gamesa will continue to be part of the region’s economy, Rosenberg said.
“We appreciate the support we received from municipal leaders and landowners who agreed to host this clean energy project,” Rosenberg said. “With a blade manufacturing plant in Ebensburg and several wind farms already developed in the region, Gamesa remains a vital part of the local community.”
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