Most of the signs, scattered in lawns and on porches from Reels Corner to Windber, read: “Stop Gamesa From Destroying This Mountain.”
“This Mountain” refers to Shaffer Mountain. And though “destroy” is a word that project supporters will contest, one thing is certain: Gamesa’s six-year fight for a Shaffer Mountain wind turbine farm is over.
In a press release sent to the Daily American on Tuesday, company Vice President of Marketing and Communications Dan Rosenberg said Gamesa has permanently canned the proposal.
“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,” he said.
“We appreciate the support we received from municipal leaders and landowners who agreed to host this clean energy project. 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.”
According to Rosenberg, the decision will not impact Gamesa’s local employees.
“Halting development of the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm will have no impact on Gamesa,” he said. “This wind farm was not among the immediate portfolio of projects planned for development.
“Like others in the industry, Gamesa is concerned about the long-term effects of uncertainty surrounding federal policies, including the Production Tax Credit, as the U.S. market remains a priority. However, our company continues to seek new opportunities to use our U.S. facilities to serve other markets, including Canada, Central America and South America, where projects are pending.”
The announcement was undoubtedly cheered by opponents of the project, who organized shortly after the plans were revealed. Their website, shaffermountain.com, garnered more than 1,500 signatures with an online petition.
Jack Buchan is a retired lawyer who owns 400-plus acres on Shaffer Mountain. He is among those who won’t miss the 90-plus turbines planned for the region.
“(This) whole mountain would be gone, essentially destroyed,” he said.
Buchan was told about Gamesa’s plans several years ago by another area landowner who had been approached by the company about a lease. He said he later found more than 600 pages of engineering documentation at the Somerset Conservation District.
According to Buchan, the project would have meant 18 miles of new roadway within the watershed of the Windber Area Authority. He and other opponents cited fears about diminishing water quality and also bird life because the area is an eagle and hawk migration corridor.
In addition, he said, they found that the region is home to a colony of the endangered Indiana bat. Opponents enlisted the help of ornithologists, bat experts, hydrologists, botanists and evolutionary biologists from across the country to give credence to their concerns.
He said the results were then given to Eric Glitzenstein of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. The group’s website states that Glitzenstein specializes in “environmental, wildlife, animal protection, natural resource, open government, and other public interest cases.”
Buchan said the attorney filed a complaint to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to consultation under the Endangered Species Act on the proposed project earlier this year.
“We fought the turbines with scientific fact,” Buchan said. “We weren’t carrying torches and pitchforks because we didn’t like the way they looked.”
He credited Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, for his help with their cause.
“He was a sympathetic ear and he understood the issue very well,” he said. “He got us some meetings in Harrisburg.”
According to Buchan, it took tens of thousands of dollars from more than 100 different residents to fund the legal resistance. To him, however, it has all been worth it.
“It was really the wrong place,” he said. “Thank goodness we were fortunate enough to stop them.”
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