Penn Forest Township residents are frustrated and even outraged over the recent news that a wind farm has been proposed literally in their backyards.
On Thursday, the issue dominated a town-hall meeting held by state Rep. Doyle Heffley in the township. Residents raised questions, concerns and urged Heffley to help them in their fight.
“Why are they picking on Penn Forest Township with the pipeline and the windmill?” Jerry Santos asked.
Atlantic Wind has proposed building 40 wind turbines as high as 525 feet tall on the land surrounding the Bethlehem Water Authority’s reservoir, which straddles Carbon and Monroe counties.
Residents found out about the project last month when Atlantic Wind went before the township’s zoning hearing board seeking a special exception to allow the project.
That hearing is set to continue on June 23.
Some attendees said they believe that township officials were aware of the project before that, and should have done something.
“There should have been an ordinance made by the supervisors because they knew about it for several years,” Judy Salovay said.
Heffley made it clear that he opposes the project. He said after a recent Op-Ed he wrote expressing his views, water authority officials agreed to meet with him to discuss his concerns.
“They’re looking to generate revenue because they don’t want to put fees up on their water and they have a lot of delinquent bills,” Heffley explained.
“That’s a Bethlehem problem. That’s not a Carbon County problem. We don’t need to bring that problem here.”
Some residents expressed exasperation that Atlantic Wind’s parent company, Iberdrola Renewables, based in Spain, has received millions in tax credits from the U.S. government.
Heffley pointed out that since he has been in Harrisburg, he has opposed tax credits for green energy projects.
But he said the most important thing residents can do is continue fighting on the local level.
“The biggest issue, where this will really be determined, is your local zoning law.”
Residents are organizing for that fight. Hank Orlandini told residents about an organization called “Save Our Allegheny Ridges” that will provide legal assistance to fight the project. The group had petitions and information available outside the meeting. Residents looking for more information are encouraged to join the Facebook group “Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm Project.”
Some residents still pleaded with Heffley to provide them with resources to help them in their fight against the project.
“We’re hearing what you can’t do. What can you do? Are there any experts you can help us, get ahold of that can speak for us? Is there any time your staff can provide?” Mary Francis Adams said.
Marcus Laurence said there is something that the state can do.
He said if Harrisburg passed a law holding the windmill builder responsible for taking them down when they have reached their life span, which other states have done, it will make it more difficult for them to install them.
“If we can stop this here, can you make sure that it doesn’t happen again at the state level?” Laurence said.
Heffley said that idea could be effective.
He said that Harrisburg could also go a step further by taking away the tax-free status of wind turbines.
“But I can tell you, in Harrisburg, there are a lot of people who think that this project should go through,” he said.
“I told the Bethlehem Water Authority when they were in my office, if you want windmills, put them in Bethlehem. Don’t put them in the Poconos. However, we still have to work within the law.”
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