May 7, 2017

Hearings to resume on wind turbines; But company says project is approved because zoning board failed to meet deadline

By Judy Dolgos-Kramer | Times News | Saturday, May 6, 2017 |

The zoning hearings on the Atlantic Wind project to install 37 turbines in Penn Forest Township are scheduled to resume at 6 p.m. May 17 at Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 on Route 903 in Jim Thorpe.

The hearings for a special exception to permit a proposed wind turbine use and to permit an operation/safety building, have been delayed for seven months and will resume at the same venue as originally scheduled.

However, Atlantic Wind says it’s not soon enough. In Friday’s Times News, Atlantic Wind placed a public notice saying Penn Forest failed to meet the 45-day deadline to hold a hearing.

Therefore, Atlantic Wind says it feels it has been granted approval to install the turbines.

The hearings were abruptly halted in September when those representing the wind company filed a complaint with the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas requesting a move to a safer venue and also that the court intervene and appoint an independent hearing officer to replace the zoning hearing board.

After many months of filing various court documents, complaints and memorandums of law, Judge Steven R. Serfass heard arguments on Dec. 20. During the hearing, Matthew Rapa, attorney for the township’s zoning board, indicated that the board did not have a problem with a change in venue but argued against the removal of the board.

The board members are appointed by the township supervisors and are all volunteers. Zoning hearing boards have decision making powers that are independent and are subject to reviews by a court of law and not the township supervisors.

Serfass filed an order on Feb. 17 refusing to remove the zoning hearing board, agreeing with Rapa’s argument. The judge added that he would entertain an agreement between the parties to move the hearings to a more secure venue.

It had been suggested early on in the debate that the hearings might be moved to the county courthouse in downtown Jim Thorpe.

On March 30, the Carbon County Commissioners rejected Atlantic Winds proposal to use the courthouse.

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.”

Neither Rapa nor Atlantic Wind’s attorney, Debra Shulski, returned calls for comment.

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