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Gas, wind companies fight over Hector land rights  

Credit:  By Nick Hartranft | Potter Leader-Enterprise | June 16, 2017 | ww.tiogapublishing.com ~~

COUDERSPORT – Local gas company JKLM Energy has challenged Walden Green Energy’s Big Level Wind in a civil suit with a public hearing slated for June 19 and 20.

Most recently, on June 12, the court granted the plaintiff JKLM’s emergency motion for interim relief to cease ground activity around the proposed sites of turbines 2, 8 and 16, and in area located within 800 feet from said turbines.

The court is fairly considering recognizes it will hear the rest of the testimony within the next week, BLW’s John Soininen said. “Big Level Wind is respecting the court’s decision.”

BLW started construction of an access road off of White Knoll Road and some minor work in the vicinity of turbine 8.

The two companies have entered this suit primarily due to a dispute of land and subsurface ownership and property rights in Hector Township. And though JKLM and BLW are both directly involved in the dispute, The Young Family is also a plaintiff while Hector Township and Hancock Mutual Life Insurance are all co-defendants.

According to source documents and numerous accounts, the two parties began talking in spring of 2016 and eventually met that summer to discuss a cooperative plan to suit both company’s needs. Plaintiff John Young, said that he brought the two companies together in hopes of working out a plan to benefit everyone.

“I thought they could negotiate. The area is large enough to accommodate both companies, though some compromises would have to be made. But it makes a lot more sense for them to share roads, electric lines and other burdens that could be split by both companies. It benefits everyone in the end if they cooperate.”

All parties agree that communications were open, however there is a dispute over the terms of agreement between the two major parties.

“A meeting was held with JKLM in August 2016 to discuss a cooperative agreement for use of the surface lands. Big Level Winds offered a mutual use agreement… but JKLM never responded to that offer,” Soinenen said.

According to Young, the offer didn’t seem like a cooperative one.

“JKLM received a letter stating Big Level’s intent to build turbines according to their plans without consideration of moving them. I think it upset JKLM. It sounded like they (BLW) were saying, ‘we’re going to do what we want and you need to stay out of our way’.”

According to BLW, planning for the wind farm took seven years, involved meetings with township, state and federal agencies and provided maps and information that has been available for public review since last spring.

“At no time during or after the meetings did JKLM or the Youngs present options for mutual use of the surface in Potter County,” Soininen said. “Big Level Wind has an agreement from all the owners of the surface (while) JKLM hasn’t even requested any such agreement from the surface owners.”

Conversely, JKLM said the township and Big Level Wind hadn’t approached any of the subsurface owners.

“The township has taken actions that are in violation of its own ordinances, including approving Big Level Wind’s permit application without proof that Big Level had agreements with the subsurface property owners and the failure to provide notice to the subsurface property owners about the Township’s approval of Big Level Wind’s permit application,” JKLM said in a statement.

According to all involved, there is an immediate dispute for the land usage at the turbine 8 site, which is where JKLM plan to construct well pad 173 and 173b. Well pads 173 and 173b are two of four well pads JKLM hopes to construct that conflict with BLW’s turbine sites 2, 8 and 16. The land where turbine site 8 is located approximately half a mile southeast of the dead end on Swartz Hollow Road.

“JKLM agrees that 23 of the 26 wind turbines do not conflict with their well pad plans,” Soininen said.

Young said that if BLM changes anything on the existing plan, it would have to start the permit process all over again.

Young sees BLW’s decision to start work at one of the most disputed sites as “an act of bad faith.”

“There are 26 turbines and (BLW) decided to start with (site 8). I don’t know their explanation, but it comes off as too convenient to be coincidental,” he said.

BLW is steadfast that JKLM could find other sites that don’t conflict with its plans.

“JKLM and the Youngs want to force Big Level Wind to move or eliminate turbines that have taken seven years to carefully plan, site and fully-permit,” Soininen said. “(BLW’s) position … is that JKLM have a right of reasonable access to the oil and gas but they must take into account other uses of the surface. Professional engineers and experts have confirmed there are multiple suitable locations for JKLM’s gas well pads that do not directly conflict with the wind turbine locations.”

Young contests BLW could just as easily move their turbines.

“Oil and gas rights have a dominant position under Pennsylvania law… JKLM’s experts have found that (BLW) could easily move some of their turbine locations with far less of an impact on their project’s economics than they seem willing to acknowledge,” Young said.

One thing is certain: both projects will be halted due to the litigation.

“Hopefully an agreement can still be made,” Young said. “As it is right now, nobody’s working and neither project is helping out the residents of Hector Township.”

Source:  By Nick Hartranft | Potter Leader-Enterprise | June 16, 2017 | ww.tiogapublishing.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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