The issue over 37 wind turbines in Penn Forest Township is being played out in the courts.
Atlantic Wind LLC has filed a special exception application to build the turbines on property belonging to the Bethlehem Watershed Authority. The company had been running a series of wind studies in the area since 2013, when it requested permission to install meteorological towers on the property.
Residents immediately began to protest the move. Local elected officials were deluged with pleas to stop the project. Several Facebook pages sprang up, including the closed group Say NO to the Bethlehem Watershed Wind Farm Project. A GoFundMe was set up to collect money for legal fees to fight Atlantic Wind.
Six hearings were held before the Penn Forest Township Zoning Hearing Board, with testimony from Atlantic Wind’s experts including project manager Craig Poff and their noise engineer and experts brought by residents.
Tammy McKenzie, a homeowner from Somerset County who lives beneath the Twin Ridges Wind Farm, testified that she can no longer live in her home due to flickering lights and sound that has been measured as high as 80 decibels.
Real estate appraiser Don Paul Shearer testified that due to the “damaged goods” theory, properties in the area can lose as much as 25 to 35 percent in value.
Hydrogeologist Pamela Dobbs testified regarding ground water disturbance and what its long-term effects would be on the mountainous region. Richard James testified to the flaws in Atlantic Winds noise study.
On Sept. 20, Atlantic Wind representatives did not attend the hearing and sent a letter citing safety concerns and said they would file a suit to remove the township’s appointed board in favor of an independent hearing officer and moving the hearings to a “safer” venue.
Atlantic Wind filed the suit in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 26.
Judge Steven R. Serfass heard arguments on the preliminary objections filed by the hearing board requesting that the court deny Atlantic Wind’s request on Dec. 20.
Atlantic Wind argued that holding the hearings at Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 was unsafe for Atlantic Wind’s employees, counsel, witnesses, the members of the zoning hearing board and the general public because the crowds were often unruly and rude, and they had witnessed residents who were armed.
Atlantic Wind also argued that there had been credible threats made against its employees and zoning hearing board chairwoman Audrey Wargo. The argument concluded that Atlantic Wind would not receive a fair hearing if the board was being threatened.
Serfass questioned whether appointing an independent hearing officer would make a difference. Zoning hearing board solicitor Matt Rapa told the court that he believed that a change to a more restricted venue would solve all of Atlantic Wind’s concerns without causing the parties to begin the proceedings over again before a new hearing officer.
The parties have until mid-January to file additional pleadings with the court.
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