Nearly 300 attend turbine hearing; Penn Forest residents hear Iberdrola’s plan for wind farm in township
Nearly 300 residents of Penn Forest and Towamensing townships jammed into the Penn Forest Fire Company Thursday night for the zoning hearing about a wind turbine project.
Some carried signs protesting the project, including ones identifying themselves with the Lorax, a Dr. Seuss character who worked to save the trees.
On Thursday night, cars packed the fire company parking lot and overflowed alongside the road and into the nearby bank parking lot.
Atlantic Wind, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, filed an application for the special exception for the turbine farm on property belonging to the Bethlehem Water Authority in Penn Forest Township.
The plans call for up to 40 wind turbines to be set along the Stoney Ridge and Call Mountain. The water authority’s land borders Towamensing Township.
The project area is 9,938 acres, with the disturbance area listed as 292 acres, according to the application. The turbines are expected to be of a newer generation, with estimates ranging from 400 to 525 feet in height.
The company has 59 sites in the U.S., including one in Somerset County in western Pennsylvania.
Iberdrola’s three witnesses were able to complete their testimony but there was not enough time to begin the opposition’s side of the hearing.
An additional date will be set for the board to hear testimony from residents who will be affected by the project.
Before offering any testimony, Iberdrola’s attorney Debra Shulski said the zoning ordinance allows for wind turbines in the R-1 zone by special exception and that the company was there to show that the project would meet all of the requirements of the ordinance.
Shulski said that as a special exception, permitted use, that the township could place reasonable conditions on the project.
Craig Poff, director of business development for Iberdrola testified to the scope of the project. Poff, led by Shulski, went through the requirements of the township zoning ordinance related to wind turbines, saying that Iberdrola’s plans met or exceeded all of the zoning requirements.
Poff said that Iberdrola was one of a number of companies that Bethlehem Water Authority approached to bring the project to its land. The project has been in the planning stages since 2013.
Poff said the authority required a decommissioning plan for when the project comes to an end.
“Wind turbines usually have a life expectancy of 20 to 50 years,” Poff said.
“We will be required to remove the materials within one year of decommissioning the site.”
Poff said the company would put up a letter of credit to fund the cost of removing the turbines.
On cross-examination, Poff said the company has yet to decommission any of its sites in the U.S.
Acoustical engineer Mark Bastach testified about the noise study that was done on the site. Bastach said the study was done using a computer model and that he had only visited the site once and that had been earlier in the day.
Bastach’s testimony was that the noise levels would be within the ranged allowed by the ordinance.
Michael Kissinger, a civil engineer who prepared the site plan for the applicant, said the plan was in compliance with the ordinance.
Kissinger also addressed some concerns that had been expressed by township zoning officer Katherine Forry by providing a more detailed site plan showing a better representation of the setbacks to occupied dwellings.
Attorney Bruce K. Anders of Wilkes-Barre entered his appearance before the board on behalf of Christopher Mangold, who resides on Lipo Way and whose property is adjacent to the site.
Residents are pooling money for legal expenses for Anders to fight the turbines. They have also established a Facebook page, “Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm project!”
During cross-examination of Poff, zoning board member Patrick Walsh asked about the size of the base of the turbines and if blasting would be necessary to install them.
Poff said the base differs by brand of turbine and that the brand had not yet been determined.
When pushed he said on average the base would be 60 feet in diameter and about 10 feet deep. He said the need for blasting would be determined after the units’ exact locations were selected.
Anders was able to cross-examine the other witnesses, and he requested that the opposition be granted sufficient time to hire experts to provide the testimony.
After three hours of testimony, there was little time for residents to ask questions.
Zoning board Chairwoman Audrey Wargo did allow for some of the residents present to be heard on the record at the end of the evening.
“I own the property immediately adjacent to the project, right here,” said Irene DeGregorio, pointing to a large piece of property on the Towamensing border.
One complaint that a number of residents expressed was that while the company had three years to prepare for this hearing many of them had less than two weeks.
“I was given two days’ notice for the informational meeting and almost two weeks for this meeting tonight, I had no possible way to be prepared for this,” DeGregorio said.
Heather Meckes asked the board if she would be able to bring a tape for them to hear of residents from Somerset County complaining about living by the turbines.
“I would love for you to be able to hear these people talk about how this has affected their lives,” Meckes said.
Resident EmilyRose Sigley posted on the group’s page this morning: “We are the Lorax. We speak for the trees, for they have no voice. We may live in different developments, but we are ONE! United we stand! This state is called Pennsylvania, meaning ‘Penn’s Woods.’ Let’s continue to fight to protect our home.”
The hearing was continued until a date to be determined when the objectors will be able to put on their case and present any expert witnesses.
“Are there any experts, medical doctors here to talk about the health effect,” Wargo asked.
The Iberdrola witnesses are subject to being recalled for further cross-examination as well.
The next hearing must be held within 45 days. Once a date is chosen it will be advertised and will be posted at the township building.
After the zoning board sets conditions, a land use plan will have to be approved before the project moves forward.
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