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County says no to wind hearings

Atlantic Wind LLC cannot use the Carbon County courthouse for the remaining zoning hearings for its proposed wind farm in Penn Forest Township, officials said.

On Thursday, the Carbon County Board of Commissioners voted to deny the company’s request to use Courtroom 1 in the courthouse to conduct the hearings needed for the zoning application for its proposed project.

Atlantic Wind, after losing in the Court of Common Pleas last month on its request for a stay in the proceedings, a change in the venue for the hearings and having an independent hearing officer appointed to replace the zoning hearing board, it sent the request to Carbon County through its attorney Jonathan Bradford of Ripley, Riper, Hollin and Colagreco.

Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein said denying the request was because there were a number of issues that Carbon County legally couldn’t do and wouldn’t be able to do.

“It’s a private industry or business that wanted to use the courtroom and there’s a whole bunch of security issues and legalities in being able to do that,” he said. “Legally, we can’t do that.”

Commissioner William O’Gurek added, “We don’t want to be a hosting site for anyone who has a disagreement in their municipality.”

The board added that if it would have approved the request, it would need to have six or seven sheriff’s deputies staffing the courthouse for the hearings to make sure people weren’t wandering around the courthouse and would also have to coordinate efforts with the Jim Thorpe Police because sheriff’s deputies do not have arresting power.

“There were a lot of security issues,” Nothstein said. “Plus, using a government building for private industry is a no-no.”

Atlantic Wind has been working on applying for constructing a wind turbine farm in Penn Forest Township since November 2015.

The plans call for building 37 industrial wind turbines on property owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority, located in the township.

Since then, the company has gone before the Penn Forest Township Zoning Hearing Board five times for a special exception for the project, but stated in its complaint in court that the hearings had become unsafe for the attendees.

Atlantic Wind cited a number of incidents from which they had concluded that its witnesses, counsel, employees and members of the zoning hearing board would not be safe if the hearings were to continue to be held at Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.