The pending special exception application of Iberdrola Renewables was before the Penn Forest Zoning Hearing Board again on Thursday evening.
The Penn Forest Township fire hall, which holds 299, filled to capacity quickly. A handful of people waited outside hoping that someone would leave making room for them to join those inside.
Others stayed outside carrying signs along Route 903 urging those passing by to join the fight to stop the wind turbines.
The project entails the installation of 37 wind turbines to be located on the mountainous ridges on the land owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority located within the township. The property is zoned residential.
According to the application, the turbines will be 525 feet in height and the diameter of the rotors will be 300 feet wide.
Many who were turned away returned home and followed the meeting by checking for updates being posted on the group’s Facebook page “Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm Project!”
Residents commenting on the Facebook page called for a bigger facility for the next meeting.
Sierra Club support
Inside, the hearing started with Donald Miles, a resident of Bethlehem and a chairman of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, reading a statement in support of the project.
Miles said Pennsylvania is 20th in the world in production of greenhouse gas because of its dependence on fossil fuels. He said without clean, renewable energy sources the state would have the same climate as Georgia within the next few decades.
Miles told the board that cats kill more birds than wind turbines. He said that fossil fuels would cause a greater potential risk to wildlife than the turbines.
“We believe that the Bethlehem Water Authority has been a good steward of the watershed,” Miles said. “We have confidence that they will continue to be a good steward if this project goes through.”
Miles’ statement was not without controversy.
Attorney Theodore Lewis, representing resident Phillip Malitsch and attorney Bruce Anders, who represents a number of residents in opposition to the project, both asked that Miles’ statement be stricken.
They referred to Miles as giving “expert testimony,” without an opportunity to cross examine him.
Debbie Shulski, attorney for Iberdrola, countered by saying that Miles was not testifying but merely giving a statement, much like a number of residents had at the conclusion of the previous hearing and that it was up to the board to decide how much weight it would give Miles’ statement.
Anders followed Miles, referring back to the transcripts of the previous hearing claiming that Shulski had misstated the definition of a special exception by using terms such as “already inherently appropriate use of the property and inherently suitable,” simply because wind turbines are a permitted use.
Anders highlighted the long list of requirements in the ordinance, such as concerns with traffic, noise and flickering lights.
He said in looking back on the transcripts each of Iberdrola’s experts had answered “yes” when asked if Iberdrola planned to meet these requirements.
“They have dropped the ball, they have not brought you what they ought to have,” Anders told the zoning board members.
Anders said he believed that the application was “fatally flawed” and that the opposition’s first witness would explain in more detail.
The only witness to be called during this session was Phillip Malitsch, a professional civil engineer, who owns property which abuts the watershed.
Malitsch was questioned by Lewis. Malitsch reviewed the application, the lease and memorandum of lease between the authority and Iberdrola and the conservation easement.
After spending an hour and a half going over the various documents, Malitsch concluded that the application has a fatal flaw in it. The bulk of the property in question is zoned residential and the ordinance is clear that properties are limited to one principal use.
According to the application and the other documents he reviewed, the principal use of the property is the watershed activities, which is to produce a potable water supply for the City of Bethlehem, Malitsch said.
The wind turbines, the operations and safety building and possibly the conservation easement which exists on the property all constitute additional uses.
When given the opportunity to question Malitsch, Anders asked him what the principal use for the land was based on the information provided by Iberdrola in each of the documents.
Malitsch’s response was the same the principal use in all of these documents was “production of potable water.”
Malitsch said insufficient information was provided by the applicant for the board to rule in favor of the applicant and that the application was not in compliance with the ordinance.
Malitsch also said the Bethlehem Water Authority is in favor of the wind turbines and the disturbance, including the forest fragmentation that will be caused on the mountain ridges.
He supplied the hearing board with a letter the authority wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in opposition to the PennEast Pipeline project.
“To protect the headwaters and feeder streams the Authority has placed significant portions of its land in a conservation easement,” the letter said.
“Doing so not only controls runoff within the feeder system but allows the authority to earn operating capital through the sale of carbon credits. Denuding a large swath over the authority’s property, and the forest fragmentation required by the current routing of the PennEast Pipeline, degrades the watershed and negatively impacts the authority’s ability to meet its obligations under the existing conservation easement agreements.”
Before the hearing the fire company, who had donated the space for the hearing, set an end time of 10 p.m.
The hearing concluded just after 9:30 p.m. and an additional hearing date was set for 7 p.m. July 14 at the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
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