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Hearing over turbines in Bethlehem’s watershed postponed over alleged threats to company officials

PENN FOREST TOWNSHIP – A hearing over whether a wind farm will be built on Bethlehem’s watershed has been put on hold after alleged threats, including to the family of a turbine company official.

The Zoning Hearing Board at Penn Forest Township, where the 37-turbine farm is proposed, agreed on Tuesday to postpone proceedings so the company could arrange to move them to Carbon County Courthouse for added security. A volunteer firehouse had been used because it could fit 300 people.

The company is also seeking an independent hearing officer to hear the matter.

Craig Poff, business director of Avangrid Renewables, said officials and their families – including his – have received threats since June, when the public review of the turbine project began before the township Zoning Hearing Board. He said others were threatened, but declined to go into the details, calling it a “very serious matter.”

Bob Weaver, a security representative of the turbine company, had alerted authorities about postings on social media that officials found threatening, but there was no threat to a specific person on social media, according to Pennsylvania State Police at Fern Ridge, which covers part of the township. Avangrid Renewables alerted police that the company would be bringing its own security to meetings in June and July, according to police.

State police at Lehighton, which covers the part of Penn Forest where the zoning hearing was held, said police were investigating allegations of threats. The details of the allegations were not immediately available Wednesday. State police did attend several of the hearings.

Township officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday, and a reporter was directed to file a right-to-know request for information about the postponement.

A Missouri sheriff’s office confirmed a complaint had been filed by a family member of a company official regarding the Penn Forest turbine issue, but declined to release it on Wednesday pending a written request.

Steve Repasch, executive director of the Bethlehem Authority, the financial arm of the city’s water business, said he supports the petition to move the hearing into the courthouse and was glad to see the zoning hearing board approve the request.

Repasch said the authority has received letters from people opposing the project, but nothing officials found threatening.

Three years ago, Avangrid Renewables, then Iberdrola Renewables, an Oregon company that bills itself as the second-largest wind energy provider, signed a lease with the Bethlehem water agency to put 37 turbines on as many as 260 acres. The company has done testing to determine if there’s enough wind to warrant a wind farm north and south of Hatchery Road.

Bethlehem Authority has championed the proposal because it is an investment in green energy, providing $100,000 each year for the authority and would not affect the quality of the spring-fed water piped from its reservoirs in the Poconos to customers of the city and surrounding municipalities.